Risk management spotlight: slip, trip, and fall liabilities

Published on Tue, 05/13/2014 - 18:15

It happens in an instant.

  • At a grocery store, a child drops a handful of cereal onto the floor creating a hazard for another customer who slips and breaks her wrist.
  • Outside at a nursery, an employee watering a display of flowers steps away to assist a customer, and an elderly gentleman trips over the hose and throws out his back.
  • On the sidewalk in front of an apartment building,  a runner trips on section of sidewalk displaced by tree roots. Knee surgery ensues.

Are the business owners really liable for these injuries? It depends.

Could you have foreseen the accident? Did you and your employees take reasonable precautions to avoid such accidents? Do you keep thorough records of your precautionary actions?

These are questions you’ll have to answer if a claim is filed against you. And it’s a situation business owners face all too frequently. Slips, trips, and falls constitute the majority of general industry accidents, cause 15 percent of all accidental deaths, and are second only to motor vehicles as a cause of fatalities, according to OSHA. And slip, trip, and fall accidents make up a huge percentage of claims filed against retailers and other businesses that allow customers on their premises.

You might think you’re in the clear because you carry a Premises Medical policy that pays up to $5,000 for injuries on your premises. But what if the injured customer requires surgery or extended medical care? That could easily break the bank. And keep in mind that slip, trip, and fall claims are magnets for fraud, and if you start racking up claims, your business insurance loss ratio will suffer. And that means higher premiums.

In legal terms, if you’re hit with a claim, you’re going to have to prove that you practiced Reasonable Care. That simply means you did everything you could reasonably be expected to do to protect your customers from injury. To determine whether your business was negligent and is liable for the injury, a court will review what steps you took to create and maintain a safe environment for your customers.

How do you establish Reasonable Care?

  1. Include floor monitoring procedures and documentation in your safety policy.
  2. Train your staff to continuously monitor for and immediately resolve any potentially hazardous spills or conditions – this includes sidewalks on your property in need of repair.
  3. Use non-slip mats in spill-prone areas.
  4. Use highly visible cones, tape, or other markers to alert customers of a spill while it’s being cleaned up.
  5. Document everything, including all preemptive measures, safety procedures, training, and regular store walk-arounds.

Establishing Reasonable Care is vital to protecting your business and your customers, and thoroughly documenting your measures is one of the best ways to arm yourself against a costly business liability claim.

Want to shore up risk management efforts at your operation? Count on the Heffernan’s Risk Management Services team for assistance. Not a Heffernan customer yet? Request a small business insurance quote.