Slip, trip and fall accidents are generally not perceived as a particular threat to the well-being of Canadians. However, the probability of serious injury, even death, from a slip and fall accident is significantly higher than from all other accidents, with the exception of car accidents. In fact, thousands of Ontario residents miss work each year as a result of a slip, trip and fall.
Slip, trip and fall accidents can occur in any season, but in Ontario winters, they commonly result from icy or slippery pavement. Other frequent causes include: uneven walking surfaces, poorly lit walkways, debris or clutter left on a floor or pathway, spills that were not cleanup up, loose rugs and missing handrails on stairs. Inappropriate footwear is also often a causal factor in a slip, trip and fall.
Often slip, trip and fall accidents result from unsafe conditions on a property. When someone is seriously injured under such circumstances, they may be eligible to claim for damages against the property owner. As defined in the Ontario Occupiers’ Liability Act, a person who occupies or owns a property is obligated to keep their premises reasonably safe for anyone who may come onto their property. If a premises occupier fails to take due care for people’s safety and someone is hurt as a result, then the owner/occupier can be found negligent. An occupier of a property includes anyone who has control over a property and its use, such as owners, tenants and anyone who controls the activities that take place on the property.
Businesses such as stores and hotels, municipal properties including roads and sidewalks, recreational venues and private homes are all subject to the Occupier’s Liability Act. The obligation to keep the public safe is further governed for municipalities under the Ontario Municipal Act, which defines a municipality’s specific responsibility in maintaining services and infrastructure including buildings, roads, bridges and sidewalks.
Some of the circumstances most likely to result in a finding of negligence on the part of a property owner/occupier are:
- Owner failed to warn of a known hazard, including areas under repair.
- There was no regular procedure in place for inspecting the property.
- Regular inspections did not take place
- A lack of maintenance procedures and failure to complete repairs in a timely manner
When someone is seriously injured due to slip and fall on an icy walkway, the owner/occupier may be held liable if they did not take reasonable steps to keep the area free of ice, snow or water. If the accident occurred on a private parking lot or footpath, such as a commercial property or a homeowner’s driveway, then the respective owner may be responsible. Although homeowners are obligated to clear the snow from their sidewalks, if someone slips and falls on a slippery sidewalk in front of a private home, it is normally the municipality and not the homeowner that may held liable for injuries.
When a grandmother recently slipped and fell on an icy Toronto sidewalk, she fractured the vertebrae in her back, which required surgery and resulted in a limp and the use of a cane to walk. In a 2015 civil suit, Audrey Cumberbatch v. The City of Toronto, the plaintiff was successful in obtaining $110,000 in damages for her injuries. The judge in this case found the City grossly negligent in their snow and ice removal because a significant amount of snow had been forecast but clearing and sanding had not been completed for at least 55 hours. Also, there was no intention on the City’s part to do so sooner, despite knowledge of the icy conditions.
Sometimes it is unclear who bears responsibility for an accident, for example, when there was a recent change in ownership and the unsafe condition originated from a previous owner, or when individuals involved in the construction or design of a property caused the unsafe condition. In cases where defendants dispute their liability, it is left to the courts to determine who is liable.
A pedestrian recently commenced a claim for injury compensation after she slipped and fell on an icy portion of a home owner’s driveway where it crosses the municipal (public) boulevard referred to as the ‘driveway apron’. The injured pedestrian named both the home owner and City of Mississauga as defendants in her claim. However, in Gribowski v. Singh, 2013, the homeowners sought a summary judgement to dismiss the claim against them arguing that as the accident occurred on public property, they are not the occupiers of the location where Ms. Gribowski was injured and therefore, they have no duty of care to her.
The Singhs had constructed their driveway on their own property and onto the apron area of the municipal road. Also, they acknowledged that they sometimes salted the apron or paid to have it cleared of snow, along with their own driveway. The City of Mississauga argued that it does not have money in its budget to clear and salt aprons, and further, does not know of any Ontario municipality that provides winter maintenance to the aprons of private driveways that extend onto public property. The judge in this action dismissed the Singh’s action to remove them as defendants in Ms. Gribowski’s claim and concluded that the determination of who is the occupier of the location where the injury occurred must be determined in a trial.
Proving a slip and fall accident.
In any slip, trip and fall accident, a plaintiff must prove that they suffered an injury at the location that is named in the lawsuit and also show that the owner of the property failed to take reasonable care to prevent their injury. Given these requirements, it is a good idea to take photographs of the location of your slip and fall as soon as possible, to record the conditions (whether icy or otherwise) at the time of the accident. The names and phone numbers of witnesses, if any, also serve as important evidence. It is also vital to provide medical reports and documentation of treatment to prove the severity of your injuries.
If you slipped and fell and were seriously injured, call an experienced personal injury attorney to find out about your options for compensation. In most cases, the initial consultation is free, so you have everything to gain in getting an honest assessment of your legal rights.