What are my business’ obligations?
If you have a business in BC and you operate in a physical location – whether it be an office, storefront, warehouse, or hip stand-alone temporary pop-up store – you owe a duty of care to your clients, employees, and anyone else who might set foot in your place of business.
In BC, the Occupiers Liability Act sets out the basic rules for when a business owner can be held liable for injuries or property damage that someone suffers in their place of business. To make complicated legislation short: if you have control over a physical location, you have a responsibility to take reasonable steps to keep people and property in that location safe.
This responsibility can seem overwhelming. Even for a small business with an equally small storefront, it’s easy to imagine nightmare scenarios: a customer tracks in rain or snow off the street, and before you’re able to grab a mop, someone else has slipped on that wet floor and set the ball rolling on a lawsuit that could take years to resolve.
Any business should make sure they have adequate insurance coverage to protect against that kind of risk, but it’s also possible to take common sense steps to avoid slip and fall claims in the first place.
Case study: Dudas v Ikea Ltd.
In the recent case of Dudas v Ikea Ltd. 2016 BCSC 826, the plaintiff suffered injuries when she slipped and fell in the washroom at an Ikea store. After stepping out of a bathroom stall, the plaintiff slipped on what she believed was water and fell, injuring her chest on the sink.
While there was no doubt that the plaintiff was injured as a result of the fall, the court ultimately found that no liability rested with either Ikea, or with its janitorial contractor SBS.
Ikea had comprehensive safety and training policies in place, and required all its contractors to learn and agree to a detailed code of conduct. Ikea’s store management met with SBS managers on a weekly basis, reviewed and audited the SBS cleaning program, and made sure to fix any problems immediately. Every washroom had a checklist, and cleaners were required to complete the checklist at least once every hour. Clear “Caution” signs were on display in every washroom warning of the risk of wet floors. Ikea safety and security personnel, both with Level 2 first aid training, arrived to help the plaintiff just minutes after she was hurt. And, crucially, there were clear records of Ikea’s practices, and store security footage to establish a clear timeline of events.
What can I do?
As large companies, Ikea and SBS have the resources to develop sophisticated and effective systems to take care of their customers and protect themselves from liability – but small businesses can, and should, take steps to ensure their premises are safe, too. If you have questions about your business should do to meet its legal obligations to its customers and employees, contact us. Our experienced business and personal injury lawyers can review your policies and practices, and give you advice to help sidestep problems – and avoid slipping and falling into a legal mess.