Nfld. & Labrador

If you slip and fall on an icy sidewalk, who is responsible?

Who's at fault if you slip, fall and have to miss work? You might have a case, but how do you prove fault? It's not easy, but it can be done, says lawyer Steve Marshall.

Hard to prove liability but it is possible, says St. John's lawyer Steve Marshall

Mount Pearl resident Kevin Jenkins has learned to deal with all the snow in his path, but others are struggling to cope. (Ted Dillon/CBC)

When winter sets in and sidewalks are caked in ice and snow, who's responsible when someone falls and hurts themselves?

Actress and filmmaker Ruth Lawrence says she was sidelined for two days recently, missing work after slipping and falling on an icy sidewalk in St. John's. 

The setback had Lawrence wondering just how much work — and income — people are missing after slipping and falling and who is legally responsible for the accidents. 

"I knew an actor a couple of years who fell just outside his door. He was heading to the convenience store. He broke his leg," Lawrence told CBC's St. John's Morning Show on Monday. 

"I remember him saying, 'OK, that's it. I've got probably two or three months now of no work.'"

Actor Ruth Lawrence says the City of St. John's and its citizens need to do a better job of clearing the sidewalks. (Andrew Sampson/CBC)

Lawrence said the city isn't doing a good job at digging out after storms pass through. She said the repercussions can be serious — even fatal.

But she doesn't pin the blame solely on the city.

Lawrence wants to see more citizens clearing their parts of the sidewalk and more businesses using salt to break down the ice.

Making the case: Injury lawyer weighs in

So who exactly is responsible?

According to veteran accident and injury lawyer Steve Marshall, it all depends on the circumstances. But a person injured from a fall could have a case in the courtroom.

Accident and personal injury lawyer Steve Marshall says slip and fall cases are hard to prove, but can be done if you have supporting third-party evidence. (Roebothan McKay Marshall)

But it's not easy to prove.

"Slip and falls are difficult cases," he said. "I wouldn't want this interview to have anyone going away with the thought that you can just go see a lawyer and then you're compensated."

The burden is on the injured person to prove the person responsible for the property was negligent and is liable for the damages. Case law in the province has established that as a high hurdle, as previous rulings have stated that ice and snow shouldn't be considered an unusual danger.

"The case law is pretty harsh against the plaintiffs here," Marshall said.

Whether you have a case depends on the footwear you were wearing, the weather conditions, the conditions of the property, and more.

People in downtown St. John's are hard pressed to find somewhere to put all the snow, and somewhere to walk. (Bruce Tilley/CBC)

It also comes down to whether you have the evidence to prove it.

"If you've slipped and fallen on an icy set of steps that are in deplorable condition, I'm going to want a photograph of that at least."

The more evidence you have from uninjured third parties, the better.

Marshall said conditions around the city are not ideal for anyone out walking. Seven people have been struck by cars since the start of the month, including one man who died from his injuries.

He agrees with Lawrence that not all the responsibility falls on the city, but some of the blame does fall there.

"Look at our sidewalks," he said. "I know the city is doing their best, but we all have to do better."

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from The St. John's Morning Show


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