Walking, Slipping and Falling in a Winter Wonderland

Walking (and Slipping and Falling) in a Winter Wonderland

Our Calgary winters can be treacherous. In addition to the hazards on the road caused by poor visibility and winter-driving conditions, sidewalks and parking lots can be a very dangerous place. Just like how we would recommend slowing down and taking extra care while driving during the winter, it is important that you take extra precautions when walking around the city during the winter months.

Calgary’s winters can experience a freeze and thaw cycle throughout every night and day, leaving dangerous patches of black ice on sidewalks and in parking lots. While those who maintain or own the sidewalks and parking lots have a duty to keep them hazard-free, many of these owners and occupiers will fail to live up to this duty in maintaining safe surfaces for you to walk on, and this is when slips and falls and injuries often occur – (and this is where a personal injury lawyer comes into play).

We have a law in Alberta that 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.” (Section 5 of the Occupier’s Liability Act, RSA 2000, c O-4)

This law has been debated in the Courts many times. In one Alberta case, Goodkey v. Canada Safeway Ltd. 2000 ABQB 376, the court describes the obligations of an occupier under the law mentioned above, asserting that “there is now no doubt that the Act imposes an affirmative duty upon an occupier to take reasonable care for the safety of people who are permitted on his premises.” The Court then qualifies this statement by saying, “it is equally true that an occupier is neither an insurer nor a guarantor of safety.

In the winter, conditions are often poor, and owners or occupiers of the sidewalk or parking lots cannot be expected to ensure perfect conditions at all times. Their duty to keep the ground safe for walking is not absolute. In a recent Alberta case, Moens v. Homberg L.P. Management Inc. 2009 ABQB 35, the Court explained the current state of the law:

“An occupier does not insure that the ground condition around a building will be absolutely free of snow and ice and therefore risk free. Where there is snow and ice present there is always some risk of a fall. It is a question of fact in any particular case as to whether an occupier has been negligent.”

This means that not all falls will be the fault of the occupier, but also that the occupier will not be let off the hook for injuries that occur from slip and fall accidents on their property simply because it is wintertime and some ice and snow are to be expected. The Supreme Court of Canada has ruled in the past that “merely because a visitor, upon arrival at a premises, sees that there is a risk in using the premises cannot in my opinion relieve the occupier of the duty placed upon him by the statute.”

However, even though a court might eventually find that the owners or occupiers of a sidewalk or parking lot were responsible for injuries resulting from a slip and fall, their insurance companies will often vigorously fight the claim. They sometimes will try and blame the Plaintiff’s injuries on the Plaintiff’s own negligence in not taking enough care while walking in hazardous winter conditions.

So, because insurance companies tend to fight many injury claims that result from slip and fall accidents, it is important that you strengthen your claim in order to protect your right to compensation. Please refer to our previous blog post for advice on what to do following a slip and fall accident.