The GTA experienced its first snowfall of the season last week. CBC News spoke with an Environment Canada meteorologist who reminded residents that snow is coming and cold air masses will be moving south from Northern Ontario toward Toronto.
Significantly, the meteorologist said that this week, freezing temperatures could bring icy roads. Ice and snow bring legal responsibilities to Torontonians who own or control property on which other people are present.
We have been discussing Ontario occupier liability law in previous blogs. Also called premises liability, provincial occupier liability law imposes the duty onto anyone who controls or owns property to keep take reasonable care to keep the premises reasonably safe for people who enter. What is reasonable depends on the particular factual circumstances, looking at factors like the nature of the property, the activities that take place on it and the people likely or expected to be present.
This duty extends to keeping people reasonably safe from slipping on icy, slushy, wet or snowy sidewalks, stairs, parking lots, decks and anywhere else people are subject to winter conditions. Depending on the situation, reasonable efforts could include plowing, shoveling, using a snow blower, sanding, chipping ice or using chemicals or salt. It may be reasonable to add warning signs or florescent warning cones or even to prevent entry to an area if it cannot be made reasonably safe.
Another winter danger to pedestrians is being hit by falling ice or snow chunks from roofs or awnings. It may be reasonable to arrange for ice and snow buildup on elevated surfaces to be removed or to rope off an area of danger if removal is not possible.
The duty to take reasonable steps for safety can extend indoors during winter months. For example, in a store, office, government building or private home, the entry area can become wet or slushy from people walking in from winter conditions outside. It may be reasonable under the circumstances to expect these entry areas to be dried to prevent slipping or for warning signs to be erected.
Anyone injured in a winter-related slip-and-fall event should immediately contact the government authority in charge of the premises if publicly owned to give the legal notice required to preserve a legal claim for these injuries. A Toronto lawyer can provide legal advice and representation in an occupier liability claim for injury from unreasonably maintained public or private premises.