The Basics of General Liability Law (Types, Elements, and Common Defenses)

General liability law covers many legal principles governing people’s and businesses’ obligations to others. It is essential because it handles situations where negligence, intentional actions, or strict liability may harm or injure another party.

By understanding these laws, individuals and businesses can understand their legal duties, liabilities, and rights when facing damage or injury claims. Plaintiffs and defendants must understand general liability principles to resolve legal disputes and ensure fairness.

Everyone must understand these concepts to handle and file claims. Talking to an Edmonton personal injury lawyer can give you great advice that is unique to your case.

Types of Liability Claims in Canada

Personal Injury Claim

Canadian tort law compensates victims of negligent or intentional acts. Personal injury claims cover many situations, including:

  • Motor Vehicle Accidents

This is a common cause of injury claims in Canada. Car, motorcycle, or other vehicle accidents that cause whiplash, fractures, or traumatic brain injuries may result in compensation claims.

  • Slip and Fall Accidents

Safety is the responsibility of property owners. Slip and fall accidents from wet floors, icy sidewalks, or uneven surfaces can result in injury claims.

  • Medical Malpractice

Medical malpractice claims can result from healthcare providers failing to provide adequate care and injuring patients. Misdiagnosis, surgery, medication, and birth injuries are examples.

Under contributory negligence in Canadian personal injury law, the plaintiff’s degree of fault may reduce their recovery. Statutory limitations periods require claims to be filed within two years of the incident.

Property Damage Claims

The following situations can lead to property damage claims in Canada:

  • Natural Disasters. Insurers or responsible parties may be sued for flood, earthquake, or storm damage.
  • Accidents. Two examples are injuries sustained in car accidents or house damage resulting from a contractor’s carelessness.  
  • Intentional Acts. Vandalism, arson, and other deliberate property damage can also lead to compensation claims.

Property damage claims depend on legal principles like the duty of care to prevent harm, foreseeability, and quantification. In Canada, courts use these factors to determine liability and award damages for repair, replacement, and consequential losses.

Advertising and Personal Injury Claim

Advertising injury claims are complex and require legal expertise to navigate regulatory compliance and defend against deceptive practices. Businesses must carefully review their advertising strategies to avoid liability and comply with Canadian advertising standards.

Deceptive advertising practice-related harm in Canada includes:

  1. False Advertising. Consumer deception claims based on product or service statements.
  2. Defamation. False statements that harm a person or business’s reputation.
  3. Intellectual Property Infringement. Claims of trademark, copyright, or patent infringement in advertising.

Canada’s consumer protection laws prohibit deceptive marketing and offer legal remedies for victims and competitors. Advertising injury claims factors include:

  • Truthfulness of Claims. Defendants can deny misleading claims or prove their advertising claims are valid.
  • Consumer Deception. Plaintiffs must show that advertising misled a reasonable consumer.
  • Remedies. Consumer deception can result in damages, injunctions, and corrective advertising orders from courts.

Elements of a Liability Claim

Duty of Care

The legal duty of care requires individuals and entities to act reasonably to prevent foreseeable harm to others. It sets a reasonable person’s standard of conduct to avoid unreasonable risk.

People and organizations must anticipate the harm they may cause others under the duty of care. This duty can arise between drivers, doctors, patients, employers, and visitors.

Establishing Duty of Care

Canadian courts use the “Anns/Cooper test,” which determines the duty of care:

  • There is sufficient proximity or relationship between the parties.
  • There are policy considerations that would negate or limit the scope of the duty.

Breach of Duty

A defendant breaches duty when they fail to meet the legal standard of care. This breach can involve negligence, recklessness, or intentional misconduct below the standard.

Courts consider several factors when determining breach:

  • The foreseeable risks of harm.
  • The severity of potential harm.
  • The likelihood of harm occurring.
  • The practicability of precautions to prevent harm.

Case Law Examples

A landmark case, Donoghue v Stevenson, established that manufacturers owe consumers a duty of care for product safety. The Ryan v Victoria (City) case established that municipalities must provide safe roads for drivers.


One way to find out if the defendant’s actions hurt the plaintiff is to look at the concept of causation.



Actual CausationProving the defendant caused the plaintiff’s harm (but-for test).
Proximate CausationConsidering foreseeability and directness to determine if holding the defendant legally responsible for the harm is fair and just.


But-for TestWould damage have happened “but for” the defendant’s conduct? 
Material Contribution TestHow much of a role did the defendant play in causing the damage?
Role in LawEssential for negligence, criminal law (actus reus), and legal liability determinations.Establishing negligence liability. Determining guilt. Assessing product liability claims.

Issues and Considerations

In complex cases with multiple causes of harm, causation can be challenging to prove. Canadian courts carefully examine factual and legal causation to attribute responsibility reasonably.

Damage amount and type can significantly affect liability cases. The goal is to restore the plaintiff to pre-injury or pre-damage condition and hold the defendant accountable.

Damages for liability claims include:

  1. Compensatory Damages. Designed to compensate the plaintiff for treatment fees, lost wages, and pain and suffering.
  2. Punitive Damages. Given to punish the defendant and deter future misdeeds.

Expert testimony and financial records determine damages. Courts evaluate the plaintiff’s life and finances after an injury or loss.

Common Defenses in Liability Cases

Contributory Negligence

Contributory negligence occurs when the plaintiff’s actions cause harm. If the plaintiff is partially responsible for their damage in Canada, their recovery may be reduced proportionally.

For example, if a pedestrian jaywalks and is hit by a speeding car, the court may assign partial blame for not using a crosswalk.

Impact on Liability and Compensation

  • Contributory negligence divides fault and reduces the defendant’s liability. 
  • The court calculates each party’s fault percentage and reduces the plaintiff’s damages. 
  • For instance, if the court determines that the plaintiff was 20% at fault, a 20% reduction in compensation could be imposed.

Real-Life Case 

In Crocker v Sundance Northwest Resorts Ltd., the Supreme Court of Canada applied contributory negligence because the plaintiff failed to wear a helmet while skiing. The court reduced the plaintiff’s damages due to this fault.

Comparative Negligence

  • Comparative negligence allows courts to evaluate each party’s fault in an accident or injury. 
  • Most Canadian provinces use modified comparative negligence, which reduces the plaintiff’s recovery if they contributed to their injury. 
  • Certain jurisdictions bar plaintiffs from recovering if their fault exceeds a certain percentage.

Assumption of Risk

Assumption of risk occurs when the plaintiff voluntarily accepts known risks. In Canada, the defendant must prove that the plaintiff:

  • Knew the risks involved.
  • Voluntarily accepted those risks without coercion.
  • Engaged in the activity with awareness of potential harm.

Sports, recreation, and certain professions where participants knowingly risk danger often involve the assumption of risk. Extreme sports participants may assume risks, limiting organizers’ or providers’ liability.

Real-Life Case

The Nova Scotia Supreme Court considered the assumption of risk in Hamilton v. Maritime Race Weekend Inc., where an unmarked hazard injured a running event participant. The court considered whether the plaintiff understood and accepted the race risks.

Statute of Limitations

The statute of limitations stipulates the time limit for legal action after an injury or damage. 

  • Canadian statutes of limitations vary by claim type and jurisdiction. 
  • For instance, personal injury claims have a two-year statute of limitations.
  • Failure to file a claim by the deadline can bar it from court. 
  • This emphasizes the importance of prompt action to protect legal rights and seek compensation for injuries or damages.


Edmonton Personal Injury Lawyer


Consult Personal Injury Lawyers For Your Liability Claims

A thorough understanding of claims, liability, and defences is needed to navigate general liability law. Due to the complexity of Canadian liability law, legal advice is essential if you’ve been involved in a motor vehicle accident claim or other personal injury case.

In these cases, Sidhu Personal Injury Lawyers Edmonton is a personal injury law firm that can deal with the insurance company, the court litigation, and its ins and outs to get you results. Our Edmonton personal injury lawyers can assist you or a loved one after a car accident resulting in physical injuries, traumatic brain injury, or wrongful death.

Frequently Asked Questions

Canadian law allows exceptions for discovering harm later (discoverability), disabilities that prevent timely action, and defendant fraud. Courts may extend limitation periods for fairness and justice.

Canadian law requires property damage plaintiffs to prove:

  • The Defendant’s Actions. The defendant’s negligence caused property damage.  
  • Foreseeability. The damage that occurred was predictable, given the circumstances.  
  • Mitigation. Plaintiffs must secure the property to prevent further damage and mitigate their losses.

Damages in injury claims depend on several factors:

  • Economic Damages. Financial losses like lost wages and future earnings.
  • Non-Economic Damages. Pain, suffering, and loss of enjoyment compensation.
  • Special Damages. Self-paid injury-related expenses.

For egregious defendant behaviour, courts may award punitive damages.

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