An owner or occupier of a premises must take reasonable steps during snowy and icy conditions to ensure the safety of pedestrians. If reasonable steps are not taken and a pedestrian is injured as a result, there could be grounds for a personal injury claim.
Injuries from slips and falls
During the winter months, much of British Columbia is covered under a layer of snow and ice. Such conditions come with their own set of hazards, particularly to pedestrians, who will be at risk of slipping and falling.
Slips and falls on snow and ice can result in serious injuries. Perhaps the most common is a broken wrist. This is because when we fall, our natural reflex is to put out an arm, but this can damage the wrist upon impact. Other injuries might involve twisted or broken ankles, neck and head injuries, and severe bruising.
Is anyone at fault?
So, is anyone at fault for these kind of accidents, or is it just a natural hazard of living in a cold climate?
Well, the answer really depends on the circumstances.
It all hinges on the fact that the owner or occupier of a premises has a legal duty to ensure any areas used by the public are reasonably safe. During snowy and icy conditions, this generally means doing things like salting and clearing snow from parking lots, sidewalks, driveways and other areas accessed by pedestrians.
If an owner or occupier does all they can to ensure the safety of pedestrians, then they cannot be held accountable for a slip or fall on snow or ice. Even if someone is injured, no one will be to blame – other than the weather, of course.
On the flip side, if reasonable steps are not taken and a pedestrian does slip or fall, the owner or occupier will be at fault. If the pedestrian is injured because of this negligence, there could be grounds for a personal injury claim.
Who is at fault?
The matter of exactly who is at fault in these situations can be a source of confusion. Ultimately it will be whoever was responsible for maintaining the premises.
Sometimes the issue is clear cut. For instance, where an owner lives in a single dwelling property, he or she will be accountable for the safety of anyone who visits their property. But sometimes responsibility lies with the ‘occupier’, which might be a person, company, city or other organization.
What does reasonably safe mean?
In order to make a personal injury claim for a slip or fall, you must be able to prove that the owner or occupier did not make the area reasonably safe.
What is considered to be ‘reasonably safe’ will be determined on a case-by-case basis. Typically, it will vary depending on who the owner/occupier is, and what the local by-laws say.
For example, with a condominium development, the strata corporation is responsible for maintaining all the common property – including sidewalks. The strata must clear the sidewalks surrounding the building of snow and ice, and in Vancouver, this might be done by 10am (except on Sundays).
However, it must be noted that pedestrians must also take reasonable steps to ensure their own safety. This means wearing the correct footwear with good tread, walking at a sensible pace and paying close attention to your surroundings.
If someone slips on ice while running in stilettos, it could be said that person contributed towards their injuries. This is known as ‘contributory negligence’. In such cases you can still pursue a personal injury claim, but the compensation settlement will be reduced.
Have you slipped or fallen on snow or ice?
If you have suffered an injury after slipping or falling on snow or ice, you might be wondering whether you can take legal action. The best way to find out is to speak to a personal injury lawyer as soon as possible.
If your injuries do not prevent you from doing so, it’s also a good idea to take pictures of the scene of accident, and the shoes you were wearing at the time.
A personal injury lawyer can then advise whether the owner or occupier took reasonable steps to make the area safe. If not, you could be entitled to make a claim for compensation.
For more information about slip and fall claims, please contact us at North Law Shore LLP.