In a recent Ontario Court of Appeal decision, an award of $1,326,000 to the parents of a deceased tenant was upheld following a finding in negligence against the landlord.
Landlord Found Liable After Tenant Dies in Fire
A residential tenant died from severe injuries following a fire in her basement apartment in 2013. The tenant had been asleep in a bedroom of the rooming house when the fire broke out. However, the tenant had no way of escaping because the windows were barred, and the only exit to the apartment was engulfed in flames and smoke. The interior access stairway connecting the basement apartment to the main rooming house was blocked off, thereby leaving only one potential exit and entry point to the basement apartment. As such, the tenant had to wait until the firefighters arrived on scene.
The tenant was transported to the hospital but passed away as a result of her injuries.
Subsequently, the tenant’s parents commenced an action against the landlord and his company for negligent conduct leading to the death of their daughter.
Jury Finds Against Landlord
Following a trial, the jury found that the landlord and his company had fallen below the standard of care of a reasonable landlord and found them responsible for the tenant’s death.
The jury made the following damages awards:
1. Loss of care, guidance, and companionship: $250,000 to each parent;
2. Mental distress: $250,000 to each parent;
3. Future costs of care for the father: $174,800; and
4. Future costs of care for the mother: $151,200.
As such, the landlord and his company were held liable for a total of $1,326,000.
The landlord appealed the Ontario Court of Appeal, alleging that the jury had been improperly selected, that the action was precluded under the Fire Protection and Prevention Act, 1997, that the jury’s verdict was unreasonable and that the damages were too high.
Ontario Court of Appeal Dismisses Landlord’s Appeal
After reviewing the landlord’s argument, the Court of Appeal dismissed his first three grounds of appeal.
Turning to the amount of damages, the court began by looking at the damages awarded for the parents’ mental distress. It stated:
“The quantum of damages reflected compensation for psychological injuries sustained by the [parents], not only because their daughter had died but also because she died in horrific circumstances witnessed by the [parents]. Ultimately, the [parents] had to make the difficult decision to remove [the daughter] from life support.
Also, there was clear, expert evidence supporting both [parents]’ claims involving the mental distress they suffered as a result of their daughter’s death. Notably, according to the psychological assessments of the [parents], following the death of [the daughter], the [mother] has “suffered a marked deterioration in her mood and daily functionality … and has also experienced passive suicidal ideation with previous serious contemplation of ending her own life”, while the [father] “is now experiencing exacerbated PTSD symptoms with persecutory anxiety”. The [parents] also testified in exquisitely painful detail at trial about what they saw, what they experienced, and how they had been impacted by the death of [the daughter]. Based upon all of that evidence, there is no basis to interfere with the award of $250,000 in mental distress damages to each respondent.”
The court further rejected the landlord’s objection to the damages for future costs of care, finding that the awards had been predicated on expert evidence and there were no grounds to interfere with the amounts awarded.
Finally, the court reviewed the jury’s award for loss of care, guidance, and companionship. The landlord relied on previous Court of Appeal case law that had established that $100,000 represented the “high end of an accepted range of guidance, care and companionship damages.” Therefore, according to the landlord, the $250,000 awarded to each parent went against the court’s own established case law.
However, noting that the courts have recognized a case-by-case approach to the quantification of damages for loss of guidance, care, and companionship, the court ultimately concluded:
“[This] will necessarily result in damages awards that will fluctuate. Coming back to the standard of review on appeal, it is only where the quantum of damages set by the jury “shocks the conscience of the court” or is “so inordinately high” that it is “wholly erroneous” that appellate intervention will be appropriate….
Therefore, while there is no question that the jury award for loss of care, guidance, and companionship in this case is high, in light of the factual backdrop of this case, it does not constitute an amount that “shocks the conscience of the court”… Nor does it represent an amount that is “so inordinately high” that it is “wholly erroneous” in nature.”
The court therefore rejected the landlord’s final ground of appeal.
As a result, the landlord’s appeal was dismissed.
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