In 1996, the Supreme Court of Canada rendered a groundbreaking decision in the case of Barker v Corus, which has since become a seminal ruling in Canadian tort law. The case involved a young woman who suffered severe burns after stepping on a piece of rebar that had been negligently left on a construction site by employees of Corus Industries. The court’s judgment established important principles regarding the scope of liability for occupiers of land and the concept of foreseeability in negligence actions.

Prior to Barker v Corus, the common law in Canada imposed a relatively high standard of care on occupiers of land. Occupiers were generally liable to all persons who sustained injuries on their property, regardless of whether those persons were invited onto the premises or not. This meant that occupiers could be held responsible for accidents caused by latent defects or hidden hazards, even if they were not aware of the danger.

The Supreme Court’s decision in Barker v Corus modified this strict liability standard by introducing the concept of foreseeability. The court held that occupiers are only liable for injuries caused by hazards that they could reasonably have foreseen. This means that occupiers are not liable for all accidents that occur on their property, but only for those that they should have anticipated and taken steps to prevent.

Occupier’s Duty of Care

Reasonable Foreseeability

The central principle established in Barker v Corus is that occupiers owe a duty of care to persons who enter their property, but this duty is limited to hazards that are reasonably foreseeable. This means that occupiers are not required to eliminate all possible risks of injury, but only those that they should have anticipated and taken steps to address.

To determine whether a hazard was reasonably foreseeable, courts consider factors such as the nature of the hazard, the likelihood of its occurrence, and the potential severity of the harm that could result. In Barker v Corus, the court found that the rebar hazard was reasonably foreseeable because it was a known hazard that had the potential to cause serious injury.

Latent Defects

The concept of reasonable foreseeability also applies to latent defects, which are hidden hazards that are not readily apparent. Occupiers are generally not liable for injuries caused by latent defects that they were not aware of, but they can be held liable if they should have discovered the defect through reasonable inspection and maintenance.

In Barker v Corus, the court held that Corus was not liable for the rebar hazard because it was a latent defect that could not have been discovered through reasonable inspection. However, the court stated that Corus could have been held liable if it had failed to conduct proper inspections or if it had ignored previous reports of similar hazards.

Invitee, Licensee, and Trespasser

Categories of Persons

The duty of care owed by an occupier varies depending on the status of the person who enters their property. There are three main categories of persons: invitees, licensees, and trespassers.

Invitees are persons who are invited onto a property for the benefit of the occupier. Occupiers owe a high duty of care to invitees, similar to the duty they owe to their own employees. This means that occupiers must take reasonable steps to ensure that their property is safe for invitees and to warn them of any potential hazards.

Licensees

Licensees are persons who enter a property with the permission of the occupier, but not for the benefit of the occupier. Occupiers owe a lesser duty of care to licensees than they do to invitees. This means that occupiers must take reasonable steps to ensure that their property is safe, but they are not required to take the same precautions as they would for invitees.

Trespassers

Trespassers are persons who enter a property without the permission of the occupier. Occupiers owe a minimal duty of care to trespassers. This means that occupiers are not required to make their property safe for trespassers, but they cannot intentionally harm them.

Defenses to Negligence

Contributory Negligence

One of the defenses that an occupier may raise in a negligence action is contributory negligence. This defense is based on the principle that the plaintiff’s own negligence contributed to their injuries. If the defendant can prove that the plaintiff was negligent, the court may reduce the amount of damages that the plaintiff is entitled to recover.

Assumption of Risk

Another defense that an occupier may raise is assumption of risk. This defense is based on the principle that the plaintiff voluntarily assumed the risk of injury by entering the property. If the defendant can prove that the plaintiff knew of the hazard and chose to enter the property anyway, the court may bar the plaintiff from recovering damages.

Conclusion

The Supreme Court’s decision in Barker v Corus has had a profound impact on Canadian tort law. The decision established the principle of reasonable foreseeability as the basis for occupiers’ duty of care. This principle has been applied in numerous cases since Barker v Corus, and it has helped to clarify the liability of occupiers for injuries caused by hazards on their property.

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