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Occupiers Liability

In Nova Scotia, anyone who occupies property (whether the owner or simply a tenant)  may be liable in the event someone is injured on that property. This Lawletter explains who may be liable and the steps you should take to protect yourself from liability.

Who is responsible?

In Nova Scotia, an occupier – the person responsible for controlling public access to the property – is the person liable if someone is injured on the property. If you own a home, you are the occupier;  if you rent a home, you are the occupier. If you rent only part of a building – for example a duplex, or an apartment in an apartment building – you will be the occupier of the portion you rent, but you may also be the occupier of the common areas. There can be more than one occupier and you do not need to have exclusive control to be liable.

Who are you responsible for?

An occupier is responsible to ensure that people who come onto the property are reasonably safe. The degree of responsibility you owe will depend on the circumstances. Generally, you owe invited visitors and children a duty to ensure that the property is reasonably safe. 

That means you are required to take reasonable precautions to discover any dangers in the property, and to supervise the use made of the property by others. You are responsible for dangers created by others on your property. You must eliminate any dangers or provide a warning about them if you are unable to eliminate the danger.

This is one of the situations in which you can be liable even though you were unaware of any danger. You must take reasonable steps to monitor and supervise what is happening on property you occupy.

The degree of care is what is reasonable in the circumstances. If you invite members of the public onto your property to do business, the Court will expect you to regularly check for problems. On the other hand, as a private homeowner with no expectation members of the public will visit, a much lower standard of monitoring will be expected. The walkway to your door may need to be safe, but you may have no obligation, or a much lower obligation, for the safety of portions of the property you do not expect anyone else to enter. The question is whether the property (given the warnings you posted) was reasonably safe for the people you could expect to be present. If the answer is yes, you are not liable for the injury suffered.

Trespassers are different. Although you are not responsible for trespassers, you are not allowed to deliberately do anything to harm a trespasser – by setting a trap, for example.

Safety at Home

  1. Check your property regularly for dangers – broken railings, poorly marked glass doors, dangerous rugs, ice and snow, children’s toys.
  2. Correct the safety hazards you discover.
  3. Ensure that your property is properly lighted at night (which also makes sense from a security perspective),
  4. Post signs warning of any particular dangers you are unable to correct, or erect a barrier to prevent accidental injury.

Safety in the Business

Businesses are held to a higher standard, as already explained. Since you hope to profit from the visits customers make to your premises, you have a heightened duty of care. The process still involves inspections, repair and warnings, but the obligation is increased to reflect the number and nature of the visitors you expect. If you do business with children, or the elderly or the disabled, you may have a higher duty than if you only do business with adults. If you are in the bar business and might have intoxicated patrons, you have a higher duty still:

  1. Staff need to understand the duty to monitor the premises for danger, to quickly remedy problems, and to post an adequate warning until the remedy can be effected.
  2. You need to be able to demonstrate later that you had a regular monitoring and inspection system.  One way to demonstrate this is to have a schedule which the person inspecting the area initials when the inspection is complete.
  3. You need to make notes of any incidents which do occur, so that you have your own information for Court.

What to do When you Receive a Complaint

  1. Notify your insurance company.
  2. Take pictures of the area in which the incident occurred, from different angles.
  3. Interview your staff or neighbours and obtain a written note from everyone who witnessed the incident.
  4. Refer any inquiries to your insurance company. Leave it to your insurer and your lawyer to deal with the injured person.

This information has been provided for general reference only.  For advice on an actual matter, you should consult a lawyer. Connect with a member of our team today to schedule your free consultation. To contact a member of our team call us at 902-469-9500 or 1-866-339-3400 or contact us online to make an appointment.