Slip and Falls: Duty to Take Reasonable Care for Your Own Safety

January 20 2022

In an earlier blog post, we looked at compensation for pedestrians hit by motor vehicles. This post looks at pedestrians injured in slip and falls. Specifically, we want to highlight that pedestrians have certain obligations to look out for their own safety, especially in harsh winter conditions.  If they do not, they may be found partly at fault (“contributory negligence”) or entirely at fault, in which case their action is dismissed.

Pedestrian Duties

The obligations of a pedestrian while walking in winter include:

  •  to wear appropriate footwear for the weather and environmental conditions;
  • to walk at a normal pace given the conditions, and not rush or run; and
  • to be aware of the conditions, especially if the walkway is covered in ice and snow.

Pedestrian obligations are set out in the Alberta case of Saunders v. Calgary (City), 2007 ABQB 743 (affirmed 2008 ABCA 380). In this case, the plaintiff fell on a slippery strip of grass between the parking lot and a community centre.   She chose to walk on the grass because the parking lot and walkway were icy.  It was January, and there had been thawing and freezing temperatures during the day for several weeks.  The community centre had not cleared the parking lot and walkway of snow and ice. The Court found that by not shovelling the snow and clearing the ice, the community centre had placed the plaintiff in a dilemma as to what route to take. She took what she thought was a shorter, safer route.

The Plaintiff’s footwear was appropriate, she walked at a normal pace and was not in a rush. She was aware of the icy conditions in all areas and watched her progress as best she could in the face of the dark and icy conditions. As she took reasonable care for her own safety, she was not contributorily negligent.  The community centre was found entirely responsible.

The Duty to Wear Appropriate Winter Footwear

In slip and fall claims on snow or ice, an injured pedestrian’s footwear is almost always considered.

In some cases, inappropriate footwear will result in a finding of contributory negligence and a reduction of damages. In Cornish v. Bubbles Care Wash Ltd. (1995), 32 Alta LR (3d) 103, the plaintiff slipped and fell at a car wash in February.  She was wearing high-heeled shoes rather than winter boots. Although the car wash had a good snow removal and salting program, there was ice buildup where the plaintiff had fallen due to a faulty drainage system design. The plaintiff was awarded damages, but the amount was reduced by 20% because of her inappropriate footwear.

In the Saskatchewan case of Betteridge v. School Children Co-operative Centre (1994), 119 Sask R 213, the Court dismissed the plaintiff’s claim and found that her choice of footwear was the sole reason that she fell.  The plaintiff fell and injured herself leaving a daycare late on a February afternoon. She was wearing dress shoes rather than winter boots. The shoes were well-worn, flat shoes with a low heel and smooth leather soles. The Court found that she was wearing inappropriate footwear for winter conditions and for this reason, had not taken reasonable care for her own safety.

Footwear is a key consideration when determining liability for slips and falls in winter months, so take care in selecting your winter footwear. A recent CBC Marketplace investigation showed that 5 out of 6 popular winter boot brands failed to meet safety standards.

What if  You Knew That the Area was Icy?

The argument that a pedestrian should not be awarded damages because they knew of the snow and ice conditions and still ventured out was rejected by the Supreme Court of Canada in Waldick v. Malcolm [1991] 2 SCR 456. In this case, the plaintiff visited his sister’s rural home during the winter. He parked in her driveway, which had not been sanded or salted, and while walking on the driveway he fell on ice and fractured his skull. The sister argued that nobody sanded or salted driveways in the country, and her brother knew the area was icy and ventured out anyway (“willingly assumed the risk”). She also argued that her brother, who also lived in the country, did not salt or sand his own driveway.

The Supreme Court held that even though it may have been local custom, it was unreasonable.  As well, a high standard of evidence is required to show that a plaintiff voluntarily assumed the risk of the icy driveway, and the sister did not meet the high standard.  She and her husband were found liable.

Different Considerations Apply for Different Types of Property Owners

Different responsibilities and considerations may apply depending on “who” the occupier or owner of the property is. There are critical differences in things like time limits to bring a lawsuit and what must be proven to establish liability when the defendant is a private homeowner versus a municipality. We covered some of these issues in an earlier post on recovery of damages for a slip and fall called “Can you recover damages for a slip and fall on an icy sidewalk.”

Not knowing how the law applies in a slip and fall claim can hurt your case, and if you miss an important deadline, you can be barred from bringing a lawsuit. That’s why we strongly recommend that you consult with an experienced personal injury lawyer if you’ve been injured in a slip and fall.

CAM LLP Experienced Personal Injury Lawyers

At CAM LLP, we have dealt with a broad range of slip and fall cases. We know the laws that may apply, we assess what must be established to prove your claim, and we are skilled at gathering the necessary evidence to present your case. We also have decades of experience representing plaintiffs against insurance companies and lawyers for defendants.

Since 1962, our lawyers have been achieving precedent-setting results for injured Albertans, including pedestrians who have been injured in wintry conditions.

Years of experience evaluating claims, negotiating settlements, taking matters to trial where necessary, and helping injured people get fair compensation make a difference.

Please contact us for a free consultation. We are here to help you.