Last updated Aug. 31, 2018.
According to the Canadian Institute for Health Information, falls are the number one cause of injuries leading to hospitalization in Canada. Often, these falls are caused by businesses or property owners failing to keep their properties safe.
When that happens, British Columbia law provides a remedy for the injured person under the province’s Occupiers Liability Act (OLA). In theory, the OLA is fairly straightforward: Occupiers must keep their property reasonably safe for others or be subject to liability for any injuries caused.
But there are some wrinkles in the law that can make its application in some cases more complicated. This post discusses the OLA in more detail, including some of those complicating factors.
In British Columbia, the OLA requires occupiers of property to “take that care that in all the circumstances . . . is reasonable to see that a person . . . and property on the premises . . . will be reasonably safe in using the premises.” This duty applies with respect to the premises’ condition, activities on the premises, and the conduct of third parties there.
But who is an occupier? The term “occupier” can include the property owner, but actually covers anyone who has:
For example, a tenant is the occupier of the home or business that he or she leases, even though he or she is not the owner.
If an occupier fails to keep premises reasonably safe, and someone is injured there, that person can bring a lawsuit to recover damages. Whether property is kept reasonably safe depends on the context of each case, but an occupier’s duties under the OLA can include:
In British Columbia, slip and fall claims are OLA claims. If you slip and fall on someone else’s property due to dangerous conditions, then you may be entitled to receive compensation for your medical costs, lost income, housekeeping losses, out-of-pocket expenses, and pain and suffering.
Although conceptually a slip and fall claim may seem simple enough, they can be surprisingly complicated. Sometimes these complications arise from the types of injuries sustained in the fall. Many injuries, such as fractures involving joints, can cause long-term problems (like chronic pain) or degenerative conditions (like arthritis), the full extent of which are not apparent in the immediate aftermath of the fall.
Slip and fall cases may require expert evidence or have tight notice periods. To prove that your injury will cause additional harm in the future, for instance, you normally must provide the testimony of a doctor to that effect. And if you fall on city property, then you may need to report the accident to the city in writing within two months—otherwise your case could be barred.
(That notice period is in addition to the general limitations period, which bars a personal injury lawsuit in most cases if it is not filed within two years of the accident in which the injury occurred.)
Of course, insurance companies do their best to make your slip and fall claim as difficult and inconvenient as possible. They will sometimes try to deny cases due to a lack of evidence. Preventing this tactic from succeeding requires taking some critical steps immediately after your fall:
Finally, the age of the injured person can have significant impacts on his or her claim, which we discuss in the next section.
A fall doesn’t affect everyone in the same way, either physically or legally. Older Canadians are more susceptible to falling and to suffering a serious injury as a result. A tumble that a younger person would walk away from without a second thought can land an older person in the hospital.
Legally, age has two main impacts on a slip and fall case:
Children under the age of 19 are considered to be under a “legal disability.” They cannot instruct a lawyer. This results in a few interesting wrinkles in the slip and fall claims process.
First, the two-year limitation period for slip and fall claims is suspended while the child remains under the disability of age or another legal disability. That means that, in general, he or she has until two years after turning 19 to file a lawsuit—not just two years after the accident occurs.
However, although the child cannot yet file suit, a litigation guardian can do so on the child’s behalf before he or she turns 19. The litigation guardian is often the child’s parent or legal guardian, but not always.
Lastly, if the child’s case settles, the settlement must be approved by a court and/or the the Public Guardian and Trustee (PGT) in order to be finalized and enforceable. The court and PGT’s role is to ensure that the settlement is in the child’s best interest and will be protected for his or her benefit.
There’s another way that British Columbia law recognizes the impact of age on a slip and fall (or any other personal injury) claim. First, a personal injury claim can be far more important for children than older people because their injuries could impact their life for many more years.
For example, if a child is injured in a way that will impact future earning capacity, then he or she could lose income for the entirety of his or her working career. Even if the child will lose only $5,000 per year as a result of the injuries, this is a large loss when considering a career of 45 working years.
On the other hand, British Columbia courts recognize that the same type of injury can have a more significant effect on an older person than a younger person. This is known as the Golden Years Doctrine. As the first case to adopt the doctrine explained:
when one has a person in advancing years, in some respects an impairment of movement may perhaps be more serious than it is with a younger person. . . . [A]s one advances in life one’s pleasures and activities particularly do become more limited, and any substantial impairment in the limited amount of activity and movement . . . becomes all the more serious on that account.
In short, British Columbia law recognizes that age changes how a person’s injuries affect him or her. B.C. courts are sensitive to those changes in determining the appropriate amount of damages to award a young or elderly person in a slip and fall claim.
The OLA is an important law that protects British Columbians as they go about their daily activities, regardless of where they are. When the occupier of a property fails to keep that property reasonably safe for other users, he or she can be held liable for any resulting injuries.
But, because slip and fall cases can quickly become complicated as a result of the circumstances of the accident, successfully holding the occupier accountable requires the assistance of an experienced personal injury lawyer.
Preszler Law Firm is a personal injury firm helping slip and fall victims throughout British Columbia. Our lawyers are experienced in helping British Columbians hold negligent occupiers responsible for the injuries their neglect causes. If you’ve been injured as the result of a slip and fall accident, contact us today for a free consultation. And remember—you don’t pay us anything until we win your case.