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Homeowners need to clear their snow, lawyer advises, to avoid lawsuits

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With more snow in the forecast for Kawartha Lakes, shovelling driveways might not be the most fun activity that the season brings. However, failure to do so, and making sure your property is reasonably safe, can cause legal headaches for homeowners.

Section 3 of the Occupiers’ Liability Act of Ontario, a section that has been in the books for decades, explains how homeowners have a duty to keep their premises safe – including after a snowfall.

Jason Ward of Wards Lawyers said their firm has extensive experience with this sort of lawsuit, having represented a number of people who have fallen victim to badly-maintained home exteriors and have decided to sue. He said it is not an abnormal occurrence for these sorts of cases to be filed.

“I don’t think ordinary members of the public realize that there can be a lawsuit directly against the homeowner,” said Ward.

“I think most people assume their home insurance would be triggered and cover them in full, but if you don’t take steps to maintain it on your own, as per the law, there is a risk that their insurance company may deny coverage, or, if they accept coverage, they may drop you as an insured person.”

Examples of people who need to be kept safe are friends, package deliverers, canvassers, and even people trying to inspect the house’s water heater to sell an allegedly better program.

The Advocate asked if a homeowner can be sued if he or she went on vacation, a snowstorm hit, and a deliverer slipped on their driveway.

Ward said “Yes” without hesitation, saying it is not a defense in a lawsuit that being away on vacation would supersede a home owner’s responsibility. He says a solution should be found in advance, such as a neighbour doing the shovelling.

However, Ward also said situations are acknowledged. “The court is not going to impose upon an elderly person outside shovelling 20 cm of snow right after the snowstorm,” he explained.

“However, the court does expect that people have some protocol in place to clear the snow from their driveway reasonably after the snow falls.”

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