Specific Legal Issues
From the Volume 14, Winter 2023 issue of the CCI GHC Condo News Magazine
As a condominium director or manager, it can feel like every year there are new laws to comply with and therefore worry about. Within the past five years, the amendments to the Condominium Act, 1998 (the “Condo Act”) and the Condominium Management Services Act are just two examples. But every rare once in a while, one of the laws that applies to condominiums actually gives condos a bit of a break. Such was the case when Bill 118 came into force two years ago, on January 29, 2021.
Bill 118 amended the Occupiers’ Liability Act (the “OLA”). Under the OLA, an “occupier” is defined as any person in physical control of a premises or who controls any of the condition of, activities on, or persons on a premises. The occupier has a legal duty to take all reasonable steps to ensure that people and property entering the premises are kept reasonably safe. Under section 26 of the Condo Act, a condominium corporation is deemed to be the occupier of its common elements and is therefore bound by the obligations under the OLA.
An occupier found to be in breach of its duties under the OLA can be found liable and ordered to pay damages to a party who suffered as a result. Site conditions that could expose an occupier to liability under the OLA in the case of an incident include:
- Snow and ice that has not been properly cleared or salted;
- Unexpected elevation changes;
- Uneven surfaces due to cracks, gaps or potholes;
- Slippery surfaces, such as wet floors or spills;
- Missing or loose handrails on stairs;
- Debris on walkways; and
- Inadequate lighting
Generally, in Ontario, someone who suffers damages due to an occupier’s breach of the OLA must file a lawsuit within two years of the date when they knew or ought to have known that they had a legal claim, which most usually falls on the date that the incident occurred.
Bill 118 added an important additional requirement for slip-and-fall claims caused by snow or ice. It is important to emphasize that this does not apply to any other type of claim under the OLA. The injured person must inform the occupier (here, the condominium corporation) of the incident in within 60 days of the date of the incident. The notice must be in writing and include the date, time and location of the incident. For a condominium corporation, it must be served personally on the manager or a director. With very few exceptions, if this notice is not given, the injured person is prohibited from filing a lawsuit for damages within the usual two-year limitation period.
The benefits of Bill 118 to occupiers, including condominium corporations, are fairly clear. The condominium will be given the opportunity to make more timely investigation of claims while records and memories are still fresh, especially those of which it was not previously aware. This is fairer than expecting an occupier to later piece together the details of an incident that may have happened two or more years earlier by the time a lawsuit is filed and served. More broadly, the new reporting requirement may reduce the overall number of claims against a condominium, allowing it to better manage its insurance premiums and deductibles.
A condominium that receives notice of an incident under the OLA must deliver a copy to its snow removal contractor and any other condominium corporation (if snow removal is a shared service).
However, Bill 118 is no substitute for proper risk mitigation measures. In addition to always making sure the condominium’s liability insurance is sufficient and up to date, implementing preventive measures – and keeping detailed written records of them – can mean the difference between liability and the condominium successfully defending a case. The standard is not perfection, but rather reasonable attention to controlling possible risks. Below are some steps that every condominium should consider.
Plans and policies
Develop, implement and regularly review and update written plans and policies for keeping the common elements safe. These should be informed by industry standards and accepted best practices.
Routine checks and inspections
Employees, agents and/or contractors of the condominium should perform and document routine checks and inspections of site conditions, equipment, etc. The scope and frequency of these will depend on the details of the site, but it is important that there be a set, demonstrable program in place that is adhered to. Detailed logs and records must be kept, including specifics of dates and times, inspections conducted, maintenance performed and any remedial actions taken.
Clear and adequate signage should be posted alerting people to risks of injury. This includes permanent signage for things like safe use of recreational amenities (gyms, pools, barbecues, etc.) and proper conduct in parking garages, as well as any temporary signage required by temporary risks (spills, tripping hazards, broken equipment) before they have been remedied.
Staff (or directors where there is no staff) should be trained on proper steps if there is a personal injury incident on the property, including:
- Carefully assisting the injured person, while not risking further injury;
- Recording the names and contact information of the injured person(s) and any witnesses;
- Completing an incident report;
- Not discussing liability with potential claimants;
- Preserving any evidence (e.g. camera footage); and
- Putting insurance on notice.
If your condominium receives a claim (either a 60-day notice for snow or ice or any other kind of notice or lawsuit), the following steps should immediately be taken:
- Take steps immediately to preserve evidence, e.g., surveillance video of the incident, photos of the place of incident, etc.
- Investigate and rule out the possibility of a common element deficiency in a timely manner. If a deficiency is discovered, it should be rectified promptly after first speaking with the condominium’s lawyers and/or insurers.
- Contact the condominium corporation’s lawyers. Extensive involvement may not be required, but they can offer some general guidance on next steps.
- Notify the condominium corporation’s insurer.
While incidents can never be 100% avoided, with proper ongoing due diligence, a condominium can both reduce the risk of injuries at its site and, if an incident occurs, reduce the condominium’s ultimate risk of liability.
Patrick Greco, B.A.Sc., LL.B.
Shibley Righton LLP
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