Ice and snow on private properties: Know your responsibilities

several men shovel sidewalk

Snow, snow and more snow! This winter has been one for the ages. As a property owner you just finish clearing snow from your walkway/entrance and you are out there again trying to keep walkways as clear as possible. At some point you may just give up and let the snow and ice accumulate. But if you are a property owner that could be risky.

In Ontario, as a property owner or if you are responsible for the maintenance of the property, you owe a duty to take such care as in all the circumstances of the case is reasonable to see that persons entering onto your property are reasonably safe. This means that if the entrance and walkway are icy and slippery you are required by law to take reasonable steps to clear the snow and make the passageways as safe as reasonably possible.

This doesn’t mean that you have to be outside 24/7 with a shovel and salt immediately clearing snow as it falls. But this does mean that you cannot simply leave your property in a dangerous state once there is reasonable opportunity to clear the snow and put down some salt. If you fail to take reasonable measures to keep your entrance and walkway in a reasonably safe condition and someone slips and falls on your property, you could be legally responsible to compensate that person for the injuries that she/he suffers. What is considered reasonable will be reviewed in light of the particular facts of each case. But to be safe you should clear snow and put down salt and/or sand as soon as you can reasonably do so; don’t leave your property in a dangerous state. Not only is this dangerous to anyone entering onto your property, you could be liable if someone gets hurt.

If you have property insurance, your property insurance policy will likely cover you for this risk. Your insurer will investigate the case and will pay for a lawyer to represent you and pay any damages that need to be paid up to the limits of your policy. However, if the person has very serious injuries, and the damages exceed the limits of your policy, your personal assets, such as your home or business could be at risk. You should always review your insurance policy limits to make sure you are adequately covered. Ask your broker or insurance representative about the cost to increase your liability limits. Sometimes the cost is not that much and the peace of mind in knowing you are covered is worth the cost.

Another benefit of increasing your insurance coverage limits is to ensure that someone who does get injured on your property is adequately protected. More than likely that person coming onto your property was a friend, customer or someone you knew. In these cases you want to ensure that you have sufficient insurance to cover those persons’ losses. If you are the friend who fell, remember, when you sue the property owner for your losses and future needs, the property owner’s insurer will pay all the costs related to your case up to the limits of the insurance policy. As long as your claim does not exceed the policy limits of the insurance, your friend is not personally at risk.

 

Kris Bonn
Written by

Kris focuses on helping people who have suffered serious personal injuries, car crash victims and long-term disability claims. Kris also helps people who are facing impaired driving and over 80 related criminal charges. Kris has successfully argued cases before juries, judges and the Court of Appeal in Toronto. Kris is active in the community as a Director of the Ontario Trial Lawyers Association and the local Brain Injury Association Quinte District. He is a member of the Hastings County Law Association and the Advocates Society. He supports local charities, including the Trenton and Belleville Hospital Foundations.