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Is an Apartment Owner Liable for a Tenant’s Slip and Fall Accident?

Property owners, such as companies that own apartment buildings, have a duty under Ontario law to keep their premises in safe condition. This means, among other things, that the property owner needs to maintain a reasonable schedule of safety inspections to identify and correct any potential hazards that might injure a tenant or lawful visitor to the premises. An owner who fails to live up to this duty may be held legally responsible for a slip and fall accident that occurs on the property.

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Gandhi v. Zev Investments Limited: Tenant Alleges Painting Contractor’s Negligence Caused His Fall

Of course, when accidents do happen, property owners are often quick to deny responsibility. As an illustration, consider the case of Gandhi v. Zev Investments Limited, which is currently pending before an Ontario Superior Court judge in Brampton. On November 29, the judge dismissed a defence motion for summary judgment–effectively a request to end the case before conducting a full trial into the merits of the plaintiff’s claims.

Here is what we know about this case. The plaintiff is a tenant of an apartment building owned by the defendant. One evening in the summer of 2013, the plaintiff was carrying garbage from his unit to a garbage disposal located on a higher floor. As the plaintiff climbed the stairs, he slipped and fell and sustained serious injuries to his teeth and shoulder.

The plaintiff slipped on some sort of liquid on the stairs. The day of the accident, the plaintiff recalled observing a contractor, ostensibly hired by the defendant, to paint the wall next to the stairwell in question. The next day, the plaintiff said he spoke to the contractor, who “apologized to him or leaving a mess on the stairs that caused [the plaintiff] to fall.”

Although the contractor subsequently denied making this statement when questioned for discovery, the plaintiff nevertheless continued to advance the theory that residue from the contractor’s paint was the liquid he slipped on. Since the contractor acted at the direction of the defendant, the latter was “vicariously liable” for the plaintiff’s injuries.

In its motion for summary judgment, the defendant maintained that the plaintiff never conclusively identified the hazard that caused his accident. The defence pointed to the plaintiff’s own examination for discovery. When asked by defence counsel what exactly the contractor spilled, the plaintiff replied, “That is what I don’t know, it was slippery.” The plaintiff speculated it “was either a paint or the thinner of the paint.” The defence argued this was insufficient, and that the case should be dismissed since there was “no genuine issue for trial in this action based on negligence or occupier’s liability.”

Obviously, the plaintiff disagreed. He argued the factual record was “incomplete” and that a trial was necessary to determine whether or not the defendant’s employees were negligent in complying with the company’s maintenance policies with respect to the stairwell.

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Judge: Defence can not Avoid Trial by Advancing Alternate Theory of Accident

The judge assigned to this case, Justice David Price, ultimately agreed with the plaintiff that there were issues requiring a full trial. The judge explained that according to binding precedent from the Supreme Court of Canada, summary judgment is only appropriate in cases when “the judge is able to reach a fair and just determination on the merits on a motion for summary judgment.” But this assumes the judge is in a position to make any necessary “findings of fact” without the benefit of a trial.

In this case, many of the basic facts are not in dispute. The defence admits the plaintiff was injured in a slip and fall accident that occurred in the stairwell of its building. The defendant also acknowledged that on the day the accident took place–a Tuesday–there was no regularly scheduled inspection or maintenance of the property. The property manager further admitted that on the morning prior to the accident, he gave the contractor “money so he could go out and buy [painting] supplies that day.”

Beyond this, however, is where the plaintiff and defendant’s theories of what happened differ. As mentioned above, the plaintiff testified the contractor apologized to him after the accident for the condition of the stairs. But in discovery, the contractor–who is not a party to this lawsuit–said he took the paint supplies he purchased back to his own apartment, where he and his brother painted some panels that were to be installed in another part of the building. In other words, the contractor now denied he did any painting in the stairwell at all that day. Consequently, Justice Price said the plaintiff was entitled to cross-examine the contractor at trial.

The judge also rejected the defence’s position that since the plaintiff has advanced “multiple theories of liability at different points” in the lawsuit, that required dismissing the action at summary judgment. In fact, it was the defence that tried to create many of these theories via its questioning of the plaintiff during discovery. For example, a defence lawyer suggested one of the plaintiff’s neighbours may have dropped “cooking oil” on the stairwell just before the accident. This defence theory was based on an email sent by one of the building superintendents several months after the accident, in which she “relates a conversation her husband is alleged to have had with” the plaintiff where the plaintiff “is alleged to have attributed his slip and fall to cooking oil.”

But even if the defence can provide additional proof to support this theory, Justice Price said it should not prevent the plaintiff from proceeding with his claim that his slip and fall was the result of paint residue negligently left on the stairs by the defendant’s contractor.

Preszler Injury Lawyers May be able to Help if You Have Been Injured in a Slip and Fall Accident

There are many possible causes of slip and fall accidents. Not all of them involve negligence on the part of the property owner. This is why it is important to work with an Ontario personal injury lawyer who can assist you in fully investigating the circumstances of your accident and advising you on the appropriate course of legal action. Contact Preszler Injury Lawyers if you have been in an accident and would like to schedule a free, no-obligation consultation with one of our lawyers today.



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