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Occupier’s Liability – City Liable for Injuries Caused by a Fire Started by its Tenant

*written by Vic Maan, Associate at Holness and Small Law Group

If you are injured because of a hazardous or dangerous condition on either public property (city or province owned) or private property, you may have a claim for compensation against the property owner or tenant who had control over the property. This type of claim is known as an occupier’s liability claim.

If the accident occurred on private property, the occupier’s liability claim will be made against the “occupier” of the property such as the homeowner, business owner and/or tenant.

If the accident occurred on public property, the occupier’s liability claim will be made against the owner, either the province or city, as well as against the tenant.

In the recent case of Abdi v. Burnaby (City), 2020 BCCA 125, the injured claimant was invited to a party at residential property occupied by tenants (renters) which was owned by the City of Burnaby. The tenants had an outdoor fire. Without any warning, the tenant poured motor oil on the fire. The oil exploded onto the injured claimant and he became covered in flames. As a result, he suffered significant and severe burns to his body which changed his life forever.

Prior to this accident, the tenants had a long history of having fires in the fire pit they created in their backyard despite open fires being contrary to a city bylaw. The tenant had often poured used motor oil on the fires knowing that it would cause the fire to flare up. In fact, a neighbour reported concerns to the City about the outdoor fire and City’s fire department had also attended the residence to extinguish the flames.

The action was brought against the City who owned the residential property and the tenant who resided on the property and caused the fire explosion. causing an explosion.

At the Supreme Court trial, the City and the tenants were found liable and at fault for the injuries. The City appealed arguing that that they could not be held liable for the Incident because it was not reasonably foreseeable for the tenant to pour motor oil on the flame.

The Court of Appeal disagreed with the City that the accident was not foreseeable because the City was aware prior to the accident that the tenant had outdoor fires and that some of these fires were out of control:

The proper question is whether the [City] ought to have reasonably foreseen that a personal injury involving fire might be caused by their actions and omissions. The answer to this question is yes.

...

The City had knowledge that there was a previous outdoor fire at the [the defendant tenant’s]   residence in 2008, with flames shooting 20 feet high. That fire was extinguished by the City’s fire department and was the subject of a neighbour’s complaint to the City. The City did not follow up with any inspection of the property despite having a policy to conduct safety inspections of its residential properties.  The City did not demand that the [the defendant tenant’s] remove the fire pit until after [the plaintiff] was injured, at which time the [the defendant tenants] complied with the City’s demand and ceased holding outdoor fires. The focus of the appeal was on the question of whether the injuries to [the plaintiff] were reasonably foreseeable. 

As it related to the tenants, the Court of Appeal also noted that they were liable because “a reasonable person would know that motor oil is flammable and gives off fumes, and that pouring it onto a fire creates a significant risk of an unpredictable flammable reaction which could harm a person nearby”.

The facts in this case are rare, however, the principles of the law of occupier’s liability are well established. In fact, occupier’s liability applies to injuries resulting from a slip and fall accidents, trip and fall accidents and any accidents which occur on private or public property involving hazardous or dangerous conditions. The Occupier’s Liability Act is the governing legislation for the duty of care owed by those who ‘occupy’ (owners, lessors, or tenants) property to people who visit the property.

Check out a previous blog post on Occupier’s Liability for more information.

If you are injured in an accident on private or public property, there are certain steps that you should take immediately to ensure you have a valid claim to pursue. Contact one of our lawyers for a free initial legal consultation to find out your legal rights without delay.

Tags: hazards in slip and fall, occupiers liability, unusual danger

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"Jacqueline A. Small is a personal injury lawyer with over 15 years of experience and a partner with Holness Law Group."

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