Sapia v Invermere (District), 2018 BCSC 1145 (CanLII) – Human Factors Case Brief

Sapia v Invermere (District), 2018 BCSC 1145 (CanLII)

Date: 2018-07-09


82-year old Ms. Sapia fell as she was leaving Invermere Seniors’ Hall to go to her car on October 17, 2014 at about 4:30 p.m. The walkway which runs along the Seniors’ Hall where she fell was 6 inches higher than the parking lot. The step from the walkway to the parking lot was about the same height as a standard curb.

Ms. Sapia went to the Seniors’ Hall twice a week to play bridge and on other occasions and had walked to the parking lot hundreds of times previously. The walkway was light gray in colour, while the parking lot was dark black. There was no history of injuries or complaints about the difference in height between the walkway and parking lot.

At the time of the fall, Ms. Sapia was wearing comfortable flats, was not carrying anything, was not in a particular hurry, had no health issues, and the day was sunny and dry. Ms. Sapia was not able to explain how or why she fell.

The judge ruled that the defendants were not liable for Ms. Sapia’s injuries.

Plaintiff’s Human Factors Position

Dr. Don Donderi, a human factors expert, provided a written report that that the edge between the walkway and the parking lot should have had a warning sign or yellow line to alert seniors “to the visually imperceptible difference in elevation”. Dr. Donderi described how when people age, vision becomes poorer and as a place with older patrons, the Seniors’ Hall should have provided a warning about the change in elevation.

Defendant’s Human Factors Position

The Defendant did not provide any human factors position.

Instead, the defence argued that the human factors expert was making an opinion that was more properly the decision that the court must make.

Judge’s Rational

The judge felt that report provided by Dr. Donderi was “common knowledge” that was “not particularly helpful” and viewed the report as an opinion that was another piece of evidence to be considered within the whole of the evidence. The judge agreed that a yellow painted line would have alerted Ms. Sapia to the drop in elevation from the walkway to the parking lot.

Nonetheless, the judge felt the markedly contrasting colours between the walkway and parking lot made the change in elevation to be “obvious”. Had there been a yellow painted line, then level of warning would have equated to “perfection”. However, the judge ruled that standard of care does not require an occupier to be perfect, only that the occupier must provide premises that are reasonably safe in the particular circumstances.

The judge ruled that the Plaintiffs had not shown on a balance of probabilities that the defendants had breached their high standard of care to provide premises frequently used by senior citizens that were reasonably safe.