Slater v. Courtenay (City)

When a person is injured on another person’s property, they may have recourse under the Occupiers Liability Act. The OLA requires that the occupier of a property take reasonable care to ensure that persons on their property are reasonably safe. This includes property owned by municipalities. However, the rather unique case of Slater v. Courtenay (City), 2021 BCSC 1678 is an example of how difficult it can be to successfully sue a municipality for being injured on their property.

In Slater, a young man was on his way to his friend’s house after an evening of drinking. He decided to cut-through city property where he encountered a flight of stairs. However, instead of walking down the stairs, he slid down the bannister using his left hand to steady himself. Unfortunately for him, one of his fingers got caught on the way down and was completely ripped off his hand. While he recovered his severed finger, it was too badly damaged to be reattached.

Following his injury, the City fixed the stairs and bannister to remove the design element that caught the man’s finger.

The man sued the City of Courtenay alleging various deficiencies with respect to the design and condition of the bannister. The City eventually asked the Court to dismiss the case.

After examining the nature of the stairs and bannister, and the man’s description of what happened, the judge found that the man was injured, in part, due to the configuration of the bannister. He then went on to discuss the standard of care to which property owners are held under the OLA. Importantly, he noted that standard is one of reasonableness, not perfection. Owners are not required to ensure that people on their property will be absolutely safe.

In dismissing the man’s claim, the judge found that the bannister was capable of being used safely if used as intended ie. by a person walking up or down the stairs. It was the momentum of the man sliding down the bannister in combination with the design of the stairs that caused his injury. Had he been using the stairs as intended, he would not have been injured. As such, his injury was not reasonably foreseeable and the City should not be held liable.