In the recent decision of Rivers v. North Vancouver (District) et al., 2020 BCSC 1050, Judge Tammen summarily dismissed a claim against the District of North Vancouver (and all other defendants) arising out of an accident that occurred at a local baseball diamond. In his reasons, Judge Tammen outlined important points on the standard of care required of a municipal occupier of a park.
In this case, the plaintiff, a 58 year old man, attended his 16 year old son’s baseball game at Inter River Park in North Vancouver. While watching the game, he was struck on the head by a foul ball from another nearby baseball diamond and suffered injuries as a result. In addition to the District of North Vancouver, the plaintiff also sued Little League Baseball Canada and the “League Defendants” (including Mount Seymour Little League Association and West Vancouver Little League Society).The District, pursuant to the Occupiers Liability Act, RSBC 1996 c.337, conceded that it owed a duty of care and was an occupier of Inter River Park, given that it owned the park, constructed the baseball diamonds, and was responsible for all maintenance of the facilities and structures at the park. Therefore, the key issue for determination at the summary trial was whether the District had met the requisite standard of care.
The Court found that the District of North Vancouver to have adequately discharged the standard of care required of a municipal occupier of a baseball diamond park. In determining the required standard, Judge Tammen considered a variety of safety precautions raised by the plaintiff that could be (and often were) undertaken by other baseball diamonds to ensure the safety of all attendees. These considerations included the back-to-back configuration of the fields, the distance between two diamonds, the height of the fencing, the distance from home plate to the backstop, the location of the bleachers, and the absence of warning signs and coverings of the bleachers.
The Court ultimately found that the District had taken steps that were either consistent with or went beyond industry standards and recommendations. Specifically, the distances between diamonds were farther than recommended, the backstop heights higher than commonly seen, and the bleachers were in standard positioning. The Court noted that there may have been an increased risk due to the improper distance between the home plate and backstop, however the taller backstop fencing and greater distance between diamonds effectively minimized the increased risk. Further, there was a complete absence of any documented incident at the park in the past which was favorable to the District in the standard of care analysis. The plaintiff also pointed to examples of further (and far less common) safety precautions including warning signs and net coverings on bleachers, even providing evidence of diamonds in the Lower Mainland that had adapted these extra precautions. However, the court clarified that such precautions were not the norm in the industry and noted that the District’s standard of care only required ensuring the premises were reasonably safe, at para 77:
“In my view none of those further steps was required. To require the District to have undertaken any or all of those things would be to hold the District to a standard of near perfection. The District was not required to take all conceivable measures to make the premises as safe as possible for spectators. Rather it was required to take reasonable steps to render the premises reasonably safe.”
Essentially, the Court found that it was enough that the District implemented common industry standards in constructing and maintaining the baseball diamonds in order to avoid liability for the plaintiff’s injuries.
Written by Elizabeth Cordonier with contribution from articling student, Annette Bronsch.