Personal Injury Damages – Avoiding Homeowner Liability

As the weather becomes colder, it is important to be aware of the increased risks that result from the accumulation of snow and ice. In Canada, property owners and occupants have a responsibility to act reasonably to remove snow and ice to ensure that their property is not slippery or otherwise unsafe. The responsibility to remove snow and ice extends to the walkways in front of the occupier’s home.

What happens if someone falls?

If a person slips or trips on snow or ice that accumulated due to the owner/occupier’s negligence in failing to keep the property safe, he or she may sue for damages to recover the losses suffered. In order for a person who suffers a slip and fall on ice or snow to prove that the owner/occupier was negligent, he or she must show that the conduct of the owner/occupier fell below the accepted standard for clearing snow and ice. People walking on snowy or icy surfaces are also expected to take reasonable care by walking carefully and wearing reasonable footwear. If a person who suffers a fall was not acting reasonably, a Court may find that he or she was contributorily negligent and may reduce any damages awarded.

Removal of Snow or Ice?

Ensuring that your property is free of ice and snow can be challenging during the winter months, particularly when temperatures are changing quickly. However, an owner/occupier must only act reasonably in the circumstances to ensure that his or her property is safe, which means clearing snow and ice within a reasonable amount of time. Determining what is reasonable will depend on a number of factors, including typical weather conditions in the area and if the snow or ice was sudden or unexpected.

In addition to an owner/occupier risking liability for damages due to their negligence for failing to keep their property clear of snow or ice, they could also be exposed to a fine from the City/Municipality where the property is located.  Many cities have bylaws that prescribe specific time requirements for salting sidewalks and shovelling driveways or walkways. For example, in Nanaimo, British Columbia, owners/occupiers must remove snow and ice from walkways within 24 hours of the snow or ice accumulating.

Although a City may set certain time limit for snow or ice removal, a Court may still find an owner/occupier liable for damages if it concludes that the snow or ice should have reasonably been removed before the time period prescribed by the City. For this reason, it is important to be careful to diligently maintain your property and walkways during the winter months.