The Alberta Occupiers’ Liability Act: What Is It and How Does It Affect You?
Each and every day we come into contact with different places and spaces. Whether dropping kids off at school, picking up groceries, or visiting a friend at their home, we are constantly visiting public and private locations.
The good news is that we can generally visit people and businesses without worrying about our safety. Unfortunately accidents and injuries occur, and when they do, it can lead to important questions about legal rights and responsibilities.
In Alberta, the Occupiers’ Liability Act, RSA 2000 C O-4 (the “OLA”) establishes the legal obligations a property owner or occupier has to keep a location reasonably safe for lawful visitors.
At first glance, the need to ensure that a home or business is safe for visitors seems like a relatively straightforward concept. Unfortunately, the rights and obligations the OLA establishes get confusing quite quickly.
What is the Alberta Occupiers’ Liability Act?
The OLA is a provincial law that establishes the duty of care an occupier of a premises owes to a visitor. This brief explanation is not very helpful, as the emboldened words can be interpreted in several different ways.
Luckily, the OLA (like most statutes) provides detailed definitions that help us better interpret
- the legal obligations people have to keep a property safe for its intended use; and
- when the occupier of a property may be liable for an injury that occurs on the premises.
What is a “premises”?
The first step in understanding the OLA is to determine the physical locations (“premises”) where the legislation applies.
Section 1(d) of the OLA provides a detailed list of what qualifies as a “premises” and the types of properties that do not fall under this Act. For the purpose of this overview, the OLA generally applies to all businesses and private residences, but not to highways, private streets, aircrafts, or motor vehicles.
Who is an “occupier” and who is a “visitor”?
Now that we know where the OLA applies, the next step is to determine who is responsible for the legal obligations the Act establishes. Specifically, the OLA establishes the legal obligations the occupier of a premises owes to a lawful visitor of that premises.
The OLA defines “occupier” as a party (i.e., individual or corporation)
- in physical possession of the given premises, or
- who has responsibility for and control over
- the condition of the premises;
- the activities conducted on the premises; and
- the people allowed to enter the premises.
This definition of “occupier” means that a single premises can have more than one occupier at a given time. Depending on the circumstances, the OLA may apply to both a property owner and a party with a degree of possession (either temporary or permanent) over part (or all) of a property. In other words, an occupier may be a property owner, landlord, or renter.
Turning back to the purpose of the OLA, we know that an occupier of a premises owes a duty of care to a visitor. But who counts as a “visitor”?
At its simplest level, a visitor is any person who is legally allowed to be on the premises. This generally includes anyone who is not a trespasser on private or commercial property. Specifically, the OLA applies to a visitor using the premises for the purposes for which the visitor was
- permitted by the occupier to be there; or
- permitted by law to be there.
It is important to note that the OLA does not apply to employees. In other words, employees are not considered visitors of the premises where they work.
What is a “duty of care”?
Under the OLA, an occupier must use reasonable care to ensure the safety of visitors. In law, this requirement is called the “duty of care.”
Once again, this concept seems relatively straightforward but gets complicated when we start to think through the nature and extent of this duty.
Under the OLA, the duty of care requires an occupier take reasonable steps to prevent injury or harm to a visitor. “Reasonable” is the operative word in this requirement. Most importantly, an occupier is not required to protect visitors against all potential harms. Rather, an occupier is only required to take reasonable steps to prevent risks that are reasonably foreseeable in the circumstances.
This duty of care applies to
- the condition of the premises;
- activities conducted on the premises; and
- any third parties on the premises.
Generally, these steps included maintaining the premises in a safe condition, regularly inspecting the premises for potential hazards, and promptly addressing any risks identified.
To put this in another way, if a visitor is injured by a risk that is both unreasonable and foreseeable in the circumstances, the occupier(s) may be liable for damages.
How does the Occupiers’ Liability Act affect me?
At its most basic level, the OLA protects both occupiers and visitors.
On the one hand, the OLA establishes the legal obligations an occupier owes to a visitor. Here, the Act provides concrete guidelines to help an occupier know what they must do to keep visitors from harm and avoid any potential liability.
On the other hand, the OLA provides visitors injured by a foreseeable and unreasonable risk with the opportunity to seek damages. For example, a lawful visitor who is injured by a foreseeable risk may be entitled to compensation for their injuries, medical expenses, loss of income, and other related damages.
The overall purpose of the OLA is to reduce the risk of injury as people go about their lives. Although this seems relatively straightforward, it is easy to see how questions about who qualifies as an occupier and what is an unreasonable risk can complicate a potential claim.
If you have been injured on someone else’s property, it is important to discuss your situation with an experienced personal injury lawyer. A personal injury lawyer from Vogel LLP can help you understand your rights and assess your legal options.
Book a free personal injury consultation with a lawyer at Vogel LLP today. We will be happy to answer your questions and advise you on any potential next steps.