The Clock Ticks on Slips and Falls in Ontario

By Lesley Green
A woman who has fallen on a slippery sidewalk sitting in the snow clutching her hurt ankle.

Lawsuits against homeowners for slips, trips, and falls due to snow and ice are put on the clock; notice must be served within 60 days.

Winter is hazardous on so many fronts. From slippery roads to icy walkways, winter can cause havoc for drivers and pedestrians alike. For pedestrians, in particular, snow and ice can make driveways, sidewalks, and stairs seem like an obstacle course that is best navigated with a pair of skates or skis strapped to your boots. However, that’s not the way it should be, especially in the days following a snowfall or a freeze-thaw-freeze cycle.

Homeowners are required to make sure the paths are cleared of ice and snow on their property, typically within 12 hours of a snowfall. Whether it’s for the safety of a postal worker, delivery person, tenant, or a neighbour taking their dog for a walk, reasonable efforts need to be made to help ensure everyone stays upright and safely on their own two feet. But when efforts are not made, and a person takes a spill and is harmed, there’s a reasonable risk of being sued for damages.

For homeowners who clear the snow and ice on their own, their home insurance policy (with its liability coverage) will help defend them in a lawsuit and even payout damages, if necessary. For property owners who instead hire a snow removal company to do the work for them, the company’s own commercial insurance policy coverage would kick in as well.

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Victims of a slip and fall must now initiate action within 60 days

With the passing of Ontario’s Bill 118, which amends the Occupiers’ Liability Act, victims of a fall due to snow or ice no longer have two years to decide if they want to pursue legal action; now it must be done within 60 days. While some worry that the shortened timeframe doesn’t give injured individuals the opportunity to realize the extent of their injuries, others believe it will minimize unnecessary lawsuits.

“I believe the Bill as amended achieves a good balance between the rights of an injured person to seek compensation and the rights of the property owner, tenant and their snow removal contractor to defend themselves from frivolous lawsuits,” said Parry Sound-Muskoka MPP Norman Miller in a press release. Miller first introduced the Private Member’s Bill back in 2019.

Only time will tell what the real impact of this shortened timeframe will be.

It’s everyone’s responsibility to prevent slips, trips, and falls in winter

We’ve all taken a serious tumble in the winter. Fortunately, most falls don’t result in anything more than a bruised ego. Even so, everyone - property owners and pedestrians alike - need to take anti-slip precautions seriously for everyone’s safety.

Tips for homeowners

  • Monitor the weather for slippery conditions
  • Clear ice and snow promptly from sidewalks, driveways, and steps
  • Use salt or sand to provide traction on walkways
  • Ensure your property is well-lit at night
  • Install handrails on steps if none are present

Tips for pedestrians

  • Wear appropriate footwear for the weather
  • Walk slowly and deliberately, focused on the path ahead. Give yourself extra time so you’re not in a rush
  • Use handrails where available
  • Avoid carrying large items that impede your line of vision
  • Keep both hands free for balance, rather than in your pockets