Liability and shovelling this winter

Liability and shovelling this winter


It’s a fact of life throughout Ontario that winter brings snow and lots of it. Shovelling the icy substance from the sidewalks in front of your home or business might not be the most pleasant way to spend a part of your day, but not doing it could make you responsible if someone is injured while walking on it.

Shovelling snow is mandatory in some places

You might not see the connection between the law and moving snow off your sidewalk, but it turns out that shovelling snow is more than just something you do to get to your car. In the city of Toronto, for example, property owners can run afoul of the law when the snow falls and covers the sidewalk.

Property owners have 12 hours after a snowfall to shovel their sidewalks. If they don’t, the city will impose a fine of $125. Apparently, the city is more interested in getting people to shovel their sidewalks than it is in collecting fines, so few tickets are actually issued. The emphasis seems to be on obtaining compliance and a clear sidewalk than on making money for the city.

Who is responsible when someone falls?

The Occupiers’ Liability Act makes property owners liable when someone is injured because of hazards the owner allowed to remain on the premises, such as icy and snow covered sidewalks. The province’s Residential Tenancies Act makes landlords responsible for snow and ice removal for properties they rent.

A resourceful landlord attempted to pass the responsibility for shovelling snow from the sidewalk to a tenant by including it in the lease. The tenant slipped and fell on a snow covered sidewalk and sued the landlord for failing to remove the snow.

The trial court agreed with the landlord that the obligation to shovel snow had passed to the tenant and dismissed the claim for injuries. When the case went to the Ontario Court of Appeal, the court reinstated the tenant’s claim and ruled the attempt to transfer responsibility under the Residential Tenancies Act for shovelling snow could not be accomplished by inserting a sentence in a lease.

When municipal governments fail to clear sidewalks

Things can get complicated when it is a municipal government that fails to clear the sidewalks. In one case, a municipality failed to remove snow and ice from a sidewalk. When the person injured in a fall sued for compensation, the municipality immediately filed a claim against an adjoining property owner. The government’s position was that the property owner should be liable for the accident for failing to clear the snow and ice from the sidewalk after the government failed to do so.

The court rejected the government’s position. It found nothing in the law to allow a municipality to avoid liability for not doing something required of it.

An issue that arises in cases in which someone is injured slipping on snow or ice is the length of time the condition existed. Regardless of whether it’s a private property owner or the government, the party responsible for clearing snow and ice from a sidewalk must have known about the condition and failed to take steps to correct it. It must be proven that the responsible party had time to shovel the snow from when the snowfall ended.

Personal injury lawyers when you need them

The personal injury lawyers at Diamond & Diamond have years of experience successfully handling all types of personal injury claims, including slip and falls and other types of premises liability cases. Contact our 24/7 injury hotline at 1-800-567-HURT or visit our website to speak to someone now about your claim. Consultations are free, and we have offices located throughout Ontario.

Free consults and contingency fee arrangements apply to all personal injury cases only and to select wrongful dismissal cases, but do not apply to other types of commercial and civil litigation.