Published January 25, 2012
Sometimes the most innocuous situations create the biggest problems. This was true in a recent case that took place in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Thanks to Andre Gallant, CEO of the YMCA of Cape Breton, for sending along the details of the case and the comment. The case involved tape on the floor of a gymnasium - something we see all the time. Tape is very often used to mark off gym floors for all kinds of purposes such as to indicate the outline of a particular court or placement of equipment. And typically, the tape is left in place for future use.
The gymnasium in question is part of the Citadel Community Centre in Halifax owned by the municipality and attached to Citadel High School. The school board uses the gym during the day and the municipality uses it evenings and weekdays.
During the day, duct tape had been used on the floor near the boundary lines of a badminton court. In the evening, a participant playing badminton caught her shoe on the tape and suffered a torn meniscus in her knee. Arthroscopic surgery was required and a lengthy convalescence ensued. The municipality was responsible for cleaning the community centre, including the gym, and knew that the tape had been placed on the floor during the day.
Clearly the municipality owed a "duty of care" to the participant to ensure she was reasonable safe while playing badminton. The Court quoted a prior Ontario case (Burrough v. Kapuskasing (Town), which dealt with the condition of a tennis court) in describing the "standard of care" or conduct that was needed by the municipality to fulfill its responsibility:
The Municipality in providing facilities for the playing of tennis must ensure that such facilities can be used in safety for that purpose. Tennis is an activity which requires physical exertion on the part of the participants. In the instant case, the plaintiff sustained his injuries not as a result of his play but as a result of the deteriorated condition of the court. The courts were in my view dangerous premises, keeping in mind the purpose for which they were constructed; i.e. the active use of the premises.
The Court in this Halifax case found the municipality negligent in its care of the facility and awarded the participant damages in the amount of $30,000. It said the tape on the floor was foreseeable hazard to badminton players and that a reasonable cleaning and/or inspection of the surface would have resulted in the detection and removal of the duct tape.
The badminton player had no knowledge of the prior use of tape on the gym floor and, according to the Court, it was not a hazard she would have reasonably expected to occur and thus would not have kept a lookout for such a hazard. She was therefore not contributorily negligent for not inspecting the floor for tape.
The Court stated that the municipality should have had a daily routine, or system, of inspecting and cleaning the floor after the day use and before evening use of the gym. It now does!
It is amazing how many of these relatively small lawsuits occur each year - injuries often caused by seemingly small carelessness or oversights. It is always useful to be reminded about the small things...