Many Ontarians will likely spend time with family and friends as the weather warms up. Whether attending a backyard barbecue or meeting a friend on their porch for a coffee (or a cocktail), the changing seasons bring people together. 

However, these activities—though rare—can come with risks. An individual might slip and fall on their friend’s front steps or injure themselves while participating in a backyard activity. Thus, the question arises: how does homeowner liability work if you are injured on an individual’s property? 

In this blog post, we’ll introduce the concept of homeowner liability and discuss how personal injury claims are typically handled in these situations. 

Homeowner Liability and the Occupier’s Liability Act

Under Ontario’s Occupier’s Liability Act, R.S.O. 1990, c. O.2, an “occupier” (including a homeowner) has a duty to take such care as is reasonable in the circumstances to ensure that individuals visiting their home are reasonably safe. This rule applies regardless of whether the danger is caused by the condition of the premises or by an activity carried out at the premises. 

Examples of Potential Risks for Homeowners and Visitors

A variety of situations on a homeowner’s property can give rise to a personal injury claim against the homeowner. Thus, a homeowner’s duty under the Occupier’s Liability Act, R.S.O. 1990, c. O.2 must be taken seriously. As an example, here are just a few of the following potential risks that can result in a personal injury claim: 

  • Failing to adequately safeguard exterior walkways (for example, taking care to ensure that icy walkways are cleared and salted); 
  • Failing to address structural issues, such as loose debris on a roof that could fall on a visitor; 
  • Failing to abide by municipal bylaws regarding fencing outdoor pools; and
  • Overserving guests (for example, providing an excessive amount of alcohol to a visitor who is subsequently injured on the property). 

Exceptions to Homeowner Liability under the Occupier’s Liability Act

Of course, a homeowner will not automatically be liable for any injury on their property. 

For example, a homeowner may not be liable for any injuries sustained on their property if the injured person willingly assumed risk while on the homeowner’s property and there was no intention on the homeowner’s part to inflict harm on that person. Or, if the injured individual was under the influence of drugs or alcohol and behaved in a way that the homeowner could not have reasonably foreseen, the homeowner may not be liable for the resulting injuries. 

Similarly, trespassers to a property may not sue a homeowner for any injuries they sustain while trespassing. 

In some cases, a third party may be partially or fully liable for the injuries sustained by a visitor to a homeowner’s property. For example, if a contractor was working on the property, and a visitor was injured due to a hazard created by the contractor, that contractor may be found partially liable for the visitor’s injuries (or even fully liable, depending on the circumstances). 

Homeowner Liability and Contributory Negligence 

Contributory negligence is a legal defense wherein a defendant attempts to establish that a victim’s negligence contributed to their loss or damage (in whole or in part). Similarly to the exceptions outlined in Ontario’s Occupier’s Liability Act, R.S.O. 1990, c. O.2, if a defendant homeowner can establish that the visitor victim was contributorily negligent for their injuries, the victim’s damages will be reduced by the extent to which they were contributorily negligent. 

The Occupier’s Liability Act, R.S.O. 1990, c. O.2 addresses contributory negligence by stating that a homeowner’s duty of care under the Act does not apply where a visitor to the premises willingly assumes the risk. 

For example, if a homeowner alerts a visitor to a particular danger, like an icy walkway, and directs them to follow another safer path, but the visitor chooses to walk on the icy walkway and subsequently suffers injury, then the visitor may be found to be contributorily negligent for their resulting injuries. 

Remember that, even if an injured visitor is found contributorily negligent for their injuries, they may still be entitled to compensation. That’s why, if you have been involved in an accident, it’s always best to speak with a skilled personal injury lawyer for guidance, even if you believe that you are contributorily negligent for your injuries. 

Homeowner Liability: Who Pays for the Personal Injury Claim? 

Most Ontarians are likely familiar with automobile insurance’s role in motor vehicle accident claims. It’s equally important to understand that homeowner liability issues are often addressed through a homeowner’s insurance policy. Indeed, homeowner’s insurance protects homeowners against personal injury claims arising from activity on their premises. 

As a homeowner, it’s important to read your homeowner’s insurance policy carefully to understand your coverage and determine whether it is sufficient for your lifestyle and sufficiently protects you from liability. 

If a homeowner is found liable for a visitor’s injuries but does not have sufficient homeowner’s insurance coverage, they may be found personally liable for the visitor’s resulting claim. 

Staying Safe at Home: Homeowner Liability Safety Tips 

Typically, the best way to avoid liability issues is to take proactive prevention steps. Below, we’ve provided some suggestions on how to avoid potential liability issues in your home: 

  • Keep walkways clear: Walkways are a common cause of visitor injuries. Be sure to clear all pathways on your property of snow, ice, debris, or other hazards that could result in visitor slip and falls. 
  • Inspect for hazards: Make a point of regularly inspecting your property for potential hazards, including uneven steps, slippery surfaces, and loose debris. If you are unable to repair or replace issues on the property quickly, consider adding signage warning visitors of the hazard and notifying visitors when they arrive on your property to avoid the hazard. 
  • Maintain pool safety: If you have a swimming pool, ensure that you are meeting municipal safety requirements. Regardless of what your municipal bylaws require, it can be prudent to install a fence around the pool or consider other safety features. 
  • Consider your pets: Dog attacks are a common issue in personal injury claims. Take precautions regarding your pet’s access to visitors if safety is an issue and consider installing warning signs to alert visitors to the presence of pets. 
  • Be safe when hosting: If you are offering visitors alcohol or other intoxicants, take care not to overserve them. 
  • Secure adequate insurance coverage: Confirm that you have sufficient homeowner insurance coverage to protect you if a visitor is injured on your property. 
  • Check in with a skilled personal injury lawyer: Navigating homeowner liability can be challenging. If you have questions or concerns about your responsibilities as a homeowner in this area, be sure to speak with a skilled personal injury lawyer to better understand your rights and obligations. 

Ottawa Premise and Occupier’s Liability Lawyers Serving Eastern Ontario & North Bay

At Tierney Stauffer LLP, our personal injury lawyers have over 35 years of experience advocating for individuals injured in accidents or through the negligence of others. Our team assists clients with various personal injury claims, including occupier’s liability claims, and we provide each client with the personalized attention they need to bring about the best possible resolution. 

We strive to cultivate a comprehensive and client-focused approach with every personal injury file. To learn more, call us at 1-888-799-8057 or contact us online to set up a free consultation with a member of our personal injury team


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