Many people take advantage of Ontario's natural beauty by participating in numerous outdoor sports such as hiking, biking, and camping. When you are on such an outing you expect your safety to be given the same reasonable consideration that it would when you patronize a private recreational facility or public arena. Just as a person would expect the operators of an amusement park to check the safety of their rides, it is reasonable to expect park owners and government agencies to provide safe trails for hiking and biking, when they are intended for such uses.
In May 2016, 38-year old Sara Rosen, a firefighter at Toronto Fire Station 443 rode her bicycle off a cliff at Kelso Conservation area and fell over 20 meters. This tragic accident resulted in fatal injuries for the 15 year veteran and an investigation followed to determine the cause of the accident.
Outdoor park owners and municipalities are responsible for providing safe conditions for participants to hike and bike. Certainly, sometimes injuries can result from a split-second decision made in error by a cyclist or from a seemingly minor action such as twisting an ankle on an uneven surface. On the other hand, sometimes injuries result from a dangerous condition of which the owner/operator should have known or of which users should have been warned. If you were injured or lost a loved one due to an unsafe condition, you can make a claim against the owner of the land, the management company or operator of the facility, and/or the municipality, who may have been solely or partly responsible for creating or failing to prevent the hazard.
The number of lawsuits involving bike and hiking trails has significantly increased in the last 30 years. This is in part due to people living a more active, outdoor lifestyle, but is also often due to the negligence or carelessness of those whose responsibility it is to maintain the trails in safe condition for users. Although property owners in Ontario are not required by law to carry liability insurance should someone get injured while on their property, liability insurance is recognized as extremely important in protecting our assets and most Ontario property owners are insured. If there are grounds to file a negligence lawsuit, all parties responsible for creating or maintaining the ‘unsafe condition’ may be named as a defendant, including the trail's designers, construction company, park operator and owner. Such claims generally cite the owner/operator's failure to use reasonable care in the design, construction, management and/or maintenance of the trails.
Under Ontario law, landowners, recreational use facilities and municipalities have a responsibility for the public's safety. The trails that they open to the public must be safely designed, properly constructed, and regularly inspected. Any unreasonable hazards like the 20-meter cliff that claimed the life of firefighter Sara Rosen, must have posted and adequate warning signs. If an adequate warning is not documented and provable, a person may have a case for negligence against the owners and other parties. Trail designers and owners have the responsibility to build the trails properly, allowing their safe operation; inspect and manage them regularly; and also to have adequate liability insurance coverage in the event that someone is injured due to an unsafe condition involving negligence.
In a recent decision, Campbell v. Bruce (County), 2016, the Ontario Court of Appeal held that Bruce County is responsible and liable for the injuries that resulted when a 43 year old man fell headfirst over his handlebars, landed on his head and fractured his C6 vertibrae. The man and father of two suffered a catastrophic injury, rendering him quadriplegic. The court also rejected the charge that the injured man was partly responsible for his injury.
One of the factors in the Campbell decision is that other riders had previously been injured on the wooden obstacles along the trail, and ambulances were called to the park on at least 7 occasions. Also, it was found that the municipality didn't provide adequate signage of the "hidden or unexpected hazard" that caused the man’s injury, nor did the municipality provide instructions on how to navigate the obstacle in question.
Under the Occupiers’ Liability Act, a municipality or property owner, like any party who owns, manages or controls the activities on a property, has a duty to ensure that all people who enter a premises are kept reasonably safe. This duty of care applies whether the hazard is caused by the condition of a premises or by any activities that are carried out on a premises.
If you or a family member were injured due to an unsafe condition, in a trail biking accident or while engaged in another recreational activity, call Injury Lawyers of Ontario to find out about your legal right to compensation. Our well respected and experienced lawyers can meet with you in a no-obligation consultation to learn the facts of your case and advise you on your best course of action. Call ILO today to find out how we can help.