British Columbia is ripe with outdoor recreational opportunities through all four seasons. Because of this, Park Insurance has been pretty vocal about how to protect yourself from liability when it comes to the vehicles used in the act of enjoying the great outdoors. We have provided tips to safe boating in the spring/summer and smart ATV and snowmobiling in the autumn/winter. However, there are a wide number of outdoor activities that do not employ the use of a motor and therefore you are not defined as a watercraft or vehicle operator. Despite the lack of a motor, the activities still come with risk of personal injury and damage yet the grey area around legal definitions paints an unclear picture regarding liability in the event of an accident. Today we hope to clear some of that up by focusing on the most popular outdoor activities in the province.
5 Popular Outdoor Activities in BC That May Make You Liable for Personal Injury and What You Can Do to Mitigate the Risk
Canoeing and Kayaking
Very few people consider liability risk when it comes to rowing or paddling a canoe or kayak. However, if you exhibit negligence and a lack of care that puts others in harm’s way you absolutely face legal and liable ramifications. This summer, for the first time in Canada, an individual has been convicted of impaired driving charges causing death while paddling a canoe. Not only should you check your equipment for damage, ensure that all parties wear a personal flotation device (PFD), and avoid hazardous weather/conditions, you must also avoid alcohol or cannabis consumption prior to taking out your canoe, kayak, or even stand-up paddleboard (SUP).
Skiing and Snowboarding
Wipeouts are a part of skiing and snowboarding, but when it can be proven that you are to blame for collisions with other skiers or snowboarders you may face a claim. The same is true if you allow dropped equipment (ski pole, helmet, etc.) to block the path of a skier/boarder coming down the hill behind you. While participants are typically required to sign a liability waiver, that waiver protects the skiing/snowboarding resort, not you. An injured party make seek to make a claim against you when they have no other recourse.
To bring a claim, the injured party must prove that another skier or snowboarder (you) acted negligently and that this negligence caused their injuries. In order to determine whether your actions were negligent, their legal team may look to the safety guidelines set forth in the Alpine Responsibility Code which has been produced by the ski industry and posted on many ski hills throughout British Columbia. If it can be proven that you did not abide by the code, you may be found liable. Study the Alpine Responsibility Code with great care before you hit the slopes.
Another at-risk activity involves your acts while using a ski lift. If your equipment (boots, poles, skis, and/or snowboard, helmet, camera equipment, etc.) is not properly secured and it falls and injures someone below you may be held liable. Be sure to tighten all straps and secure anything that may otherwise come loose while on a lift.
This BC activity is a very unusual suspect when it comes to liability risk, but the shores off of Vancouver Island can be dangerous for a whole other reason beyond big waves and bears combing the shores. Collisions with other surfers can result in significant injury and damage to expensive equipment. Of course, proving negligence out in the water can be tricky. While there is an unwritten code that a surfer should not paddle into a wave when another surfer is already up and riding in their direction (to avoid collision) it’s not exactly an enforceable rule in the court of law. However, when it comes to wearing a leash (which connects the board to a surfer’s ankle) a case for negligence may be made. Without a leash, a board becomes a weapon as it jettisons from under a surfer’s feet after a wipeout and towards another surfer in the lineup. A loose surfboard that is powered by wave can lead to damage to another’s board, significant injury, and even death.
Surfboard rental shops require that anyone renting a board wears a leash, and this is often communicated in small print on the liability waiver. No matter how skilled you think you are, always wear a leash when surfing, and for good measure follow the unwritten codes of a local lineup.
“Participants involved in recreational activities generally owe a duty of reasonable care to other participants. When an individual violates this duty of care and injury results, there is the possibility for tort liability. Courts examine sports-related negligence claims on a case-by-case basis. However, many claims have been successfully defended on ‘the traditional belief that a participant assumes the dangers inherent in the sport and is therefore precluded from recovery for an injury caused by another participant.” (Surf ‘s Up: The Implications of Tort Liability in the Unregulated Sport of Surfing)
Scooting, Blading, and Skateboarding
One walk around “any town” BC and you’ll find a bevy of scooters, rollerbladers, and skateboarders navigating the streets. Each one represents a risk of collision with another person, vehicle, or property along with a subsequent liability claim. While traditional manually-operated scooters, rollerblades, and skateboards are not defined in the same manner as a cycle (more on this below) in the BC Motor Vehicle Act riders are expected to exercise reasonable caution. In the recent BC Supreme Court Case of Chabot v. Chaube a rollerblader (the plaintiff) was found 10 percent at fault following crosswalk collision with a motorist. While the plaintiff had the legal right of way her excessive speed when crossing introduced undue danger and permitted the ruling party to apportion fault accordingly. Don’t lean on the “pedestrian right of way” mantra when riding your scooter, rollerblades, or skateboard and instead employ good common sense.
In addition, you open yourself of greater liability risk if riding your scooter, rollerblades, or skateboard in a zone clearly marked by signs stating that the activity is not permitted. Most BC cities and towns have signage in place stating that riding is not permitted on public sidewalks and common areas. If you cause injury or damage in one of these marked zones you run a great risk of being found negligent. It’s also important to understand that when you ride in a designated skatepark that you are likely accepting liability risk. Most municipalities have signs stating that by simply entering the park, you are essentially singing a liability waiver.
Another thing that many scooters and skateboarders don’t realize, is that their equipment (even if a hybrid) may actually qualify as a motorized vehicle. That’s right, electric scooters and skateboards are defined as motor vehicles under B.C.’s Motor Vehicle Act, but do not meet provincial equipment safety standards for on-road use. Because of this, there are strict rules in place that you must follow or not only will you be subject to fines, you could face damaging liability claims. For ICBC definitions regarding electric scooters and skateboards, click here.
Last but not least is the most common outdoor activity of them all. You know to follow the rules of the road when using your bike for your daily commute, but many people neglect to exercise the same cautions when using their bike (or mountain bike, etc.) for recreation. The legal duties on a bike path on Monday morning downtown are no different than those of a rural road on a sunny Sunday afternoon. Cyclists have the same level of duties as drivers, and the BC Motor Vehicle Act mandates that you are required to exercise extreme care. Those best practices are found right here.
Liability coverage in a homeowner’s policy is not limited to accidents that occur at your home, and in some cases you may be covered for unanticipated scenarios such as those addressed above. If you participate in “risky” outdoor activities and have any questions about whether or not you are covered under your current homeowner’s policy, contact Park Insurance today to speak with an independent broker.