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Claiming Under the Occupiers’ Liability Act

When an individual is injured on the property of another person, or a business, the party responsible for that property may be liable for the victim’s injuries. However, the fact that the injuries occurred on someone else’s property does not automatically entitle to compensation.

Alberta’s Occupiers’ Liability Act (the “OLA”) sets out the legal framework for determining whether or not an “occupier” is liable for injuries sustained by a “visitor” on its premises.

An “occupier” is a party in physical possession of, or with responsibility for or control over, the premises in question. An occupier can be an individual or a commercial entity such as a corporation, and there can be more than one occupier of the same premises. For example, if a store operates out of a rented space in a commercial building, the storeowner and the owner of the building might both be “occupiers” of the store premises under the OLA.

A “visitor” is essentially anyone who is legally permitted to be on the premises in question. At the hypothetical store above, normal “visitors” might include customers, maintenance workers, product representatives, and delivery persons.

The OLA imposes a statutory duty of care on occupiers to take reasonable care to ensure that visitors are reasonably safe in using the premises for the purposes for which those visitors are permitted to be there.

The operative term here is “reasonable’. An occupier is not an insurer, and it is not required to protect visitors against all conceivable risks – just those that are reasonably foreseeable. Similarly, even where it is reasonably foreseeable that a visitor could be harmed by a particular type of hazard, the occupier is required only to take reasonable precautions to prevent that harm – not all conceivable precautions. The standard is reasonableness, not perfection.

If a foreseeable hazard is allowed to develop or remain on the occupier’s premises, and a visitor is injured as a result of that hazard, the occupier may be liable. However, the analysis does not end there. Under the OLA, the evidentiary burden then shifts to the occupier to show that, even though the harm occurred, it had a reasonable system in place to keep visitors reasonably safe from harm; and, it actually adhered to and followed that system. If the occupier fails to establish either of those two elements, and the visitor suffers harm as a result of a foreseeable risk, the occupier will be held liable for the visitor’s injuries.

In theory, the analysis under the OLA is relatively simple. In practice, every case is different, and the outcome of each is extremely fact-dependent. Two cases with nearly identical facts may yield very different results due to seemingly minor details.

If you have sustained injuries as a result of what you think may have been an unreasonable risk at someone else’s property or business, you should consult with a lawyer experienced in litigation under the Occupiers’ Liability Act.

By Luke Young