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Property Owner and Lessee May Share Liability Due to Post-Accident Actions, Regardless of Lease Terms

Riddle v Colchester (Municipality of the County), 2023 NSSC 24 

Reading Time: 5 minutes (approx.) 

By: Chloe Jardine (Articled Clerk)  

Mary Riddle (“the Plaintiff”) was an American tourist visiting Five Islands Lighthouse (“the Lighthouse”) in Five Islands, Nova Scotia, in July 2019 when she fell from the observation deck to the second floor through the ladder opening and suffered unspecified injuries. 

The Defendant Five Islands Lighthouse Preservation Society (“the Defendant Society”) was established to preserve the Lighthouse, and the Defendant Municipality of the County of Colchester (“the Defendant Municipality”) purchased the Lighthouse in 1996 to assist the Defendant Society with this goal. The Defendant Municipality and the Defendant Society entered into a lease agreement, which remained in effect at the time of the accident, in which the Defendant Society to operated the Lighthouse as an ecotourism site, undertook responsibility for maintenance of the Lighthouse, and managed the Lighthouse in “a safe and professional manner” with appropriate signage to the satisfaction of the Defendant Municipality. In exchange, the Defendant Municipality agreed to maintain adequate fire and liability insurance on the Lighthouse. 

All work within the Lighthouse has been the responsibility of the Defendant Society since its establishment. This included hiring and managing staff, directing and overseeing Lighthouse operations, determining hours of operation, and defining the terms of admission. The Defendant Municipality’s role was limited to maintaining the exterior of the Lighthouse and the surrounding park. The Defendant Society did not report to the Defendant Municipality in relation to the operation of the Lighthouse or require authorization from the Defendant Municipality in relation to the interior of the Lighthouse. There is no evidence to suggest the Defendant Society ever provided signage to the Defendant Municipality for approval as specified in the lease agreement.  

When the Defendant Municipality received a complaint from the Nova Scotia Department of Labour regarding the safety of the ladder opening at the Lighthouse in September 2019, the Defendant Municipality took the following steps:  (1) notifying the Defendant Society of the complaint; (2) confirming with the Defendant Society that the Lighthouse had been closed for the 2019 season; (3) directing the Defendant Society that no one was to use the internal staircase of the Lighthouse (which led to the ladder opening); (4) placing a new lock on the hatch covering the ladder opening to the above floor could not be accessed, and (5) placing a new lock on the external door of the Lighthouse to prevent entry. 

The Defendant Municipality sought summary judgment of the Plaintiff’s action against it on the basis that the Defendant Society was responsible for the conditions inside the Lighthouse per the terms of the lease between the two parties; however, the Court found that the involvement of the Defendant Municipality was a genuine issue for trial on the basis that the Defendant Municipality may have had responsibility for control over the condition of the Lighthouse given their actions following the September 2019 complaint. The motion for summary judgment was dismissed. 

Link: https://www.canlii.org/en/ns/nssc/doc/2023/2023nssc24/2023nssc24.html?searchUrlHash=AAAAAQAYZml2ZSBpc2xhbmRzIGxpZ2h0aG91c2UgAAAAAAE&resultIndex=1  

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