There’s nothing quite like a Canadian winter. As we hit the late stages of autumn and Halloween approaches, many Canadians are anticipating the first snowfall and everything that comes with it. While it’s fun to think about all the joy that winter can bring, it’s also important for individuals and businesses to be aware of the extra care we must all take when navigating this slippery season. Motor vehicle accidents, slip and fall accidents and host liability at social gatherings all require extra care and consideration during the winter months. In this week’s blog, we look at how to best prepare for the winter and review some of the legal obligations and responsibilities that people and businesses may have.
For people who enjoy social gatherings, the holidays can be an excellent excuse to get together with friends and family. As much fun as holiday parties can be, it’s important to remember that if you’re hosting a party, you could be responsible for the safety of your guests.
With that said, Canadian courts have been reluctant to impose an obligation for social hosts in private settings to ensure their guests do not injure themselves or others if they leave while impaired. A 2006 decision from the Supreme Court of Canada applied a test from a 1978 House of Lords decision that has been used to establish a duty of care. The first step of the test looks at the relationship between the plaintiff and the defendant, asking whether it is proximate enough to give rise to a duty of care. Secondly, the court must ask whether there are policy considerations that might contradict the establishment of such a duty. For social gatherings at a home, courts have been hesitant to impose such a duty on hosts because of the implications that can arise, and the difficulty involved with ensuring homeowners don’t allow guests to over-consume alcohol.
The facts of the Supreme Court of Canada’s 2006 decision are narrow in scope, involving adults consuming alcohol at a private home. It is yet to be determined whether the court’s determination would be the same if a party involved minors who were given permission by an adult host to consume alcohol or if a host knew someone was consuming an illegal substance before getting behind the wheel. Additionally, owners of bars and restaurants, as well as servers, have been found to be liable for their guests’ intoxication, including impaired driving. This was reaffirmed by the Supreme Court of Canada in a 1995 decision which held that bars and restaurants can be liable to people injured by customers who became intoxicated while at the bar or restaurant.
To summarize host liability as it currently stands in Alberta, private homeowners are not necessarily responsible for guests who leave their home intoxicated or people they might injure as a result, but it is important to remember that these situations can be decided on a case-by-case basis. Meanwhile, commercial hosts such as bars and restaurants do have a duty of care for both their customers as well as third parties who may be injured or killed because of someone consuming too much alcohol at their establishment. Such establishments must take reasonable care to ensure their guests do not drink too much or drive after doing so.
Slip and fall accidents in the winter
Injuries stemming from slipping and falling can occur any time of year but are much more likely to happen in the winter months when snow and ice cover much of the ground, especially in Alberta.
If you own property either as an individual or commercially in Alberta, you have a duty of care to do what you can to ensure guests or visitors to your property are not injured because of ice or snow. This liability is codified in the province’s Occupiers’ Liability Act, which states,
“An occupier of premises owes a duty to every visitor on the occupier’s premises to take such care as in all the circumstances of the case is reasonable to see that the visitor will be reasonably safe in using the premises for the purposes for which the visitor is invited or permitted by the occupier to be there or is permitted by law to be there.”
As with all legislation, careful attention must be paid to the words used. In this case, occupiers (owners, people who lease, and renters) of property must take “reasonable” care. This means that if someone is injured as a result of a slip and fall accident in Alberta, they must convince the courts that the risk of harm should have been reasonably foreseeable by the property owner and that the property owner did not take reasonable measures to prevent injury.
In addition to occupiers’ liability, there is also some onus on visitors and guests to take reasonable steps to ensure their own safety. For example, a shopping mall has a responsibility to remove snow and ice from the parking lot as much as reasonably possible. However, people parking at the mall and walking from their vehicle to the entrance must take care to wear proper footwear for the season. Someone wearing winter boots would likely have a far greater chance at success in suing the owners of the mall following a slip and fall than someone who was wearing an old pair of running shoes.
HMC Lawyers advises both plaintiffs and defendants in issues related to occupiers’ liability
The experienced insurance law team at HMC Lawyers works with both injured parties and defendants in situations involving occupiers’ liability claims. We also worked with people or loved ones or those who have been seriously injured in an accident that was the result of someone else’s negligence. We review each situation and take the time to understand the unique set of facts of each case. To make an appointment with us, please reach us online or by phone at 1-800-480-3534. We proudly represent clients in Calgary as well as throughout Alberta.