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Occupiers Liability: When Property Owners Are Liable for Injuries

You expected to be safe, but instead you were hurt while on someone else's property. Can you take legal action against the property owner to claim compensation for the injuries you suffered?   

You may be entitled to financial compensation if the property owner failed to take reasonable steps to keep the property safe. This is a type of personal injury case known as a “occupiers liability” claim. Damages in a occupiers liability claim can include lost income, lost future earning potential, reimbursement for medical bills and other out of pocket expenses, and compensation for your pain and suffering.   

Let’s have a look at occupiers liability law and when property owners will be held liable for injuries. 

Overview of Ontario Occupiers liability law 

The key law in Ontario is the Occupiers’ Liability Act, which imposes a legal duty on the “occupier” of a property. An “occupier” can be the owner of the property, the landlord, a tenant, or some other person who is responsible for or in control of the property. Property includes private homes or cottages, commercial occupiers (stores, businesses, restaurants, hotels, etc.) schools, hospitals, parking lots, common areas, and sidewalks.   

An occupier’s legal duty is to take reasonable steps to see that people coming onto the property are reasonably safe while on the occupiers. The occupier can be held liable for injuries that occur on their property if they fail to take reasonable steps to keep visitors to the property safe, and to warn anyone entering the property of known dangers or unsafe conditions. Determining what is “reasonable” varies case-by-case.   

Occupiers liability claims can be challenging. You bear the burden of proving that the occupier was negligent, and that their negligence caused your injuries. There can be more than one occupier. There are strict rules and deadlines that apply must be met when starting a claim, which are even tighter if your claim is against a municipality, or if your personal injury was caused by snow or ice (e.g., a slip and fall on an icy sidewalk). A personal injury lawyer can guide you through the process, explain your rights, help you determine who to bring your legal action against, and ensure deadlines aren’t missed.  

When will a property owner be held liable for injuries?  

As noted above, the question of whether an occupier failed to take reasonable steps to keep a person on their property reasonably safe is highly fact dependent. A careful analysis of the circumstances that led to your injury will be necessary. Ontario law does not expect perfection of property owners; they aren’t required to protect against every risk, and they are not responsible for risks they couldn’t reasonably foresee.  

That being said, here are some examples of common situations where occupiers may be held liable if personal injury results:  

Property owners liable for injuries

  • Failure to clear ice and snow from sidewalks, stairs, pathways, entryways, driveways, or parking lots within a reasonable period of time.  

  • Failure to clean up dropped food or spilled liquids in a grocery store or restaurant within a reasonable period of time.  

  • Failure to remedy a hazard that the property owner has notice of (e.g., the property owner is told that a balcony railing is loose, but they fail to cordon off access to the balcony until the hazard has been addressed or repaired).  

  • Not giving clear warnings or posting signs when a hazard is present, such as wet floors, uneven floors, unmarked steps, broken stairs or handrails, potholes, cracks or holes in the ground or flooring, or sharp/protruding objects.  

  • Leaving clutter or other hazards such as power cables, extension cords, or wrinkled/curled up floor mats in a store or business.  

  • Failure to inspect occupiers for hazards, or to properly maintain and repair occupiers. 

  • Failure to ensure adequate lighting.  

  • Failure to mark construction sites.  

  • Failure to put up adequate fencing around a pool to prevent drowning.  

When won’t a property owner be held liable for injuries?  

There are some notable exceptions under which a property owner may not be liable for injuries. Here are some of the most common exceptions or “defences” that occupiers raise in occupiers liability cases:  

  • Voluntary assumption of risk. A property owner is not liable if the injured person willingly assumed the risks of being on the property, so long as the property owner did not act recklessly or intentionally put that person in harm’s way. For example, use of recreational occupiers where no entry fee is charged, such as parks or trails, is typically done “at your own risk.” Another example is a situation where a liability waiver has been signed, though such waivers do not always release property owners from liability for personal injury. It depends on factors such as the wording of the waiver and whether the injury arose from some hazard not covered by the waiver.   

  • Trespassing. A trespasser who comes onto property without permission is assumed to willingly accept the risk of harm. The same is true if someone entered onto the property to commit a crime.  

  • Contributory negligence. Generally speaking, property owners are not liable—or at least not 100% liable—for injuries caused by negligence or lack of care on the part of the injured person. For example, a person who is intoxicated, who failed to wear proper footwear, who behaved recklessly, or who failed to heed warnings may be wholly or partially responsible for their own injuries. If the injured person is only partially responsible, they remain entitled to claim against the property owner for a portion of their damages.  

  • Independent contractors. Ontario’s Occupiers’ Liability Act makes it so that a property owner is not liable for negligence of an independent contractor, but only if certain conditions are met. It’s necessary to consider factors such as whether in the circumstances the property owner acted reasonably in entrusting the work to the independent contractor, and whether the property owner took steps to ensure that the contractor was competent and that the work was properly done.  

Connect With Our Personal Injury Lawyers Today If You’ve Been Injured  

At Kelly Greenway Bruce we ensure that your legal rights are preserved and that you get fair compensation for pain and suffering, wage loss, medical bills, and more.  

It’s important to connect with our personal injury lawyers in Oshawa or Lindsay immediately after receiving the necessary medical attention so that you know your rights and options and don’t miss important deadlines to bring your personal injury claim.  

For a free case evaluation, contact our Oshawa and Lindsaypersonal injury lawyers today. 


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