Unsafe premises; Injuries; Occupiers Liability Act #235
By Gerry Neely
Before the enactment of the Occupiers Liability Act, at common law a landlord renting unfurnished premises owed no duty to his tenant or to any other person entering on those premises. The Act changed the common law to make a landlord who leases unsafe premises liable for damages to person or property, if the landlord agreed to be responsible for maintenance and repair. This liability also applies if the leased premises are covered by the Residential Tenancy Act, which imposes an obligation upon the landlord to comply with health and safety standards.
This subject was discussed in more detail in 1987 in Column #109, but since people continue to fall and sue, examples of 1994 cases in which liability was found or denied may be of general interest to licensees, and of particular interest to those licensees who sell liability insurance.
A shopper entering Woolworths was injured when one of a double door through which she was entering, and which swung both ways, hit her when the door which had been held open swung back beyond the closing position. The hinges were strongly sprung and the dampener intended to control the action of the springs was missing. The tenant was liable, but not the owner because of the tenant's obligation to repair the interior of the building occupied by the customer.
A customer who entered a convenience store fell on a wet spot and the clerk who came to assist her apologized by saying that a previous customer had spilled a drink, but because the staff had been busy they had been unable to clean it up. Not good enough - they were aware of the risk and the woman was entitled to damages.
A woman dancing in a cabaret who slipped on a wet spot on the crowded dance floor could not recover damages against the owner. There was ample evidence that the owner had exercised reasonable care to prevent damage from unusual dangers by putting in place a system to safeguard against drinks being allowed on the floor. The owner's policy of no drinks on the floor was well advertised, patrons carrying drinks were approached by employees and advised that it was not permitted, and the doorman was required to clean up any spills reported on the floor.
The owner of a restaurant in wintry Prince George employed a contractor to daily inspect and sand the restaurant parking lot. The restaurant owner made a point of making sure that this work was done. A woman who fractured her leg after falling on the ice on the lot sued unsuccessfully for damages. She lost because of these steps taken to protect the patrons of the restaurant, over 2,000 of whom had crossed the parking lot within the two weeks preceding the fall without accident.
A woman fell after slipping in a puddle of water in the vegetable section of a grocery store. The system in place required regular sweeping and wet mopping daily. On the day of the fall the sweeping log introduced as evidence, showed that the area had been swept and wet mopped six times during the day, the latest being approximately 35 to 45 minutes before the accident took place. This system was evidence of reasonable care by the store sufficient to defeat the claim for damages.
An occupier may be liable in damages even if an accident occurs off the occupier's property, if the occupier is taking care of that property. That happened when a customer moving from one store to another on the owner's property crossed a grassy area owned by the municipality. The property owner maintained this area by cutting the grass and keeping it clean. This made it liable when the customer stepped into a hidden post hole and injured herself.
A woman slipped and fell on a newly-painted sidewalk that was wet from the rain. The paint was an alkyd base paint in which no sand had been added to roughen the surface. Expert evidence indicated that abrasives of this kind were used in the painting industry to counteract the slickness of the painted surface, evidence which was sufficient to impose liability upon the owner for injuries suffered by the woman.
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