In 2016-17, nearly 654,000 — or about one-third — of the more than 2 million injury-related emergency department visits were due to accidental falls. In the same time frame, injuries from falls led to about 152,500 hospital admissions. Almost 8,800 of fall-related injuries across Canada occurred as a result of people slipping on ice.
With Ontario winters inevitably creating tricky – if not dangerous – surface conditions, it is important to understand your liability if a slip and/or fall happens on a property you own or are responsible for. Property owners and tenants (or “occupiers”) have a responsibility to ensure that pedestrians are safe when accessing their property: this is spelled out legally in the Occupier’s Liability Act. As a high-level summary, the act states that an occupier has a duty of care to ensure that people on their premises are reasonably safe.
To determine whether you have met the duty of care in keeping people on your property reasonably safe, start by asking the following:
- Is there foreseeable danger on your property? Is there a hazard that you could reasonably identify as leading to potential injury?
- Do you employ reasonably acceptable safety standards of practice?
- Do you have a system of maintenance and inspection on your property?
- In the workplace, are employees adequately trained in identifying and eliminating hazards?
- Has a hazard been permitted to exist for an extended period of time?
In addition, there are ways that property owners can pro-actively protect themselves:
- Use a professional snow removal company (one that is insured and can issue a certificate of liability insurance)
- Maintain a log which indicates the dates and times that the snow is removed and salt is applied. This will provide evidence that you are doing what a prudent and responsible person would/should do to prevent/reduce the event of a slip and fall.
While most property owners have liability coverage in their insurance policies to cover potential injury claims, it is prudent to ensure that your coverage is sufficient. It is important to review and understand your policy coverage of the space both inside and outside of your home/building. While diligent prevention is the first line of defence against slip and falls, ensuring adequate insurance coverage is a critical component of your responsibility as an occupier.