Duty of Care and Municipal Sidewalks

The BC Courts have recently examined the potential duty property owners owe to third parties using municipal sidewalks adjacent to their property.

In Der v. Zhao, 2019, BCSC 1996, the BC Supreme Court rejected the plaintiff’s argument that a novel duty of care should be recognized where a property owner attempts to clear an adjacent municipal sidewalk of snow and ice but creates a new risk by not doing a good enough job. In the underlying action, the defendant residential property owner had made an attempt to clear the sidewalk adjacent to their property of snow and ice in accordance with the applicable City bylaw. Nevertheless, the plaintiff slipped and fell on black ice while walking over that area of the sidewalk adjacent to the defendant’s property that had been cleared.

In Der v. Zhao, 2021 BCCA 82, the BC Court of Appeal clarified that there is no general duty of care owed by residential property owners to users of adjacent municipal sidewalks to clear those sidewalks of snow and ice. There may be special circumstances which support a duty of care in a specific case, but there is no general common law duty of care owed. The Court did note that in the case of commercial property owners it may be easier to find a close and direct relationship with members of the public where these owners “invite” the public to their places of business. Further, the Court also held that a municipal bylaw that requires property owners to clear adjacent sidewalks of snow and ice may be the grounds for fines or other consequences following from the municipality to the property owner, but it does not create a common law duty of care to third parties.