Shovels at the Ready

It is winter. In Fernie. It hardly needs to be said, but, winter conditions are going to be everywhere in town – and for quite a while longer. Of course, this snow and ice can create slippery conditions for pedestrians visiting or passing over the property that you own or are renting. If you are wondering what your responsibilities are for clearing away this snow and ice, look no further.

If you own or rent property, you are the “occupier” as that term is defined in the Occupier’s Liability Act. The potentially dangerous conditions created by snow and ice result in the “occupier’s” duty to ensure that sidewalks, stairs, driveways and parking lots are safe for people using them. An “occupier” means a person who: (a) “is in physical possession of premises,” or (b) “has responsibility for, and control over, the condition of premises, the activities conducted on those premises and the persons allowed to enter those premises.”

The Occupier’s Liability Act
specifically provides that there may be more than one occupier of a premises, so it could possibly be an owner and a renter of the property. Which of the “occupiers” may be found liable in a situation where someone has fallen due to ice or snow will likely depend upon what the lease agreement says about who is responsible for removal of snow and ice in the winter. For example, if the lease says that the renter has to remove the snow and ice from the walkways, the renter will have to do so, or risk being legally responsible for any injuries sustained by persons entering the property.

In addition to the Occupier’s Liability Act, the City of Fernie’s “Snow and Ice Removal” Bylaw No. 1928 provides that every owner of an apartment premises, commercial premises or parking lot is responsible for the removal of all snow and ice from adjacent sidewalks before 9am each day. The Bylaw also provides that “no person shall direct, dump or allow snow to be placed within 30 feet of any corner or an intersection so as to obstruct the visibility of any driver of a vehicle approaching that intersection.”

Of course, all of this will depend upon factors such as unusual or extreme weather which may make it difficult to stay on top of the conditions of your premises. It is not the case that you have to keep your driveways, walkways and parking lots completely clear of ice and snow at all times as that would be unreasonable. Rather, it means that you have to have a regular system in place for removing ice and snow. As with many other situations, let common sense dictate your behaviour; if you see people holding on to the lampposts while they are trying to walk on the sidewalk in front of your business, you should obviously get out there with a shovel or some salt. Or, if you can clearly see that glare ice has formed since you cleared the parking lot at 9am, you need to take care of it so people don’t fall on your property.

People entering your property are also responsible for their own safety. For example if a person was wearing sandals in the winter time and they slipped on your sidewalk, you might have a good argument that they were not sufficiently responsible for their own safety.

If, as an occupier of a property, you fail to meet a reasonable standard of care for removing snow and ice from the premises for which you are responsible, you may be liable for damages if a person falls on your property and is injured. In this situation, “damages” will include any lost wages that the person sustained due to their injury, any expenses they had to pay out of their pocket as a result of the injury and compensation for their pain and suffering.

If you have insurance, your policy will likely respond to any such claim, but you will be responsible for the deductible and any increase in your insurance costs as a result. If you do not have insurance, like many residential renters, the amount that could be awarded to someone who injured themselves on ice or snow could be substantial.