How Can a Small Business Prevent Slip and Fall Lawsuits?
UPDATED: June 19, 2018
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A slip and fall lawsuit can pose a very real threat to a small business owner’s livelihood. Regardless of liability, defending any lawsuit is costly—in both time and dollars spent. Fortunately, there are some easy ways to avoid slip and fall accidents on your property. The following tips are relatively simple to implement and will reduce your chances of being sued for a slip and fall.
Small Business Insurance: Protection Against Slip and Fall Lawsuits
For small business owners, obtaining the proper type and amount of small business insurance is essential in protecting against slip and fall liability. Regardless of how well you maintain your place of business, slip and fall lawsuits can and do still occur. When you contact your insurance agent, make sure you are getting insurance that is appropriate for your small business.
A comprehensive general liability insurance policy should provide you with two very important assets for the cost of your premium: an insurance company defense attorney to protect your interests, and a fund from which the insurance company can settle the case or pay any damages awarded against you in a slip and fall trial. You should also make sure your small business insurance policy is large enough to cover any potential damages assessed against your business.
Small Business Owners and Duty of Care
In addition to insurance, a well-maintained place of business is essential to shielding yourself from slip and fall liability. Good maintenance may seem obvious, but many small business owners, particularly those who do not have customers visiting their place of business on a regular basis, tend to let cracked sidewalks, bunched carpet, or other potential hazards slide. But remember, slacking on the upkeep of your business can be a costly mistake. Making routine checks to ensure that your place of business is in good condition is essential.
The need to maintain your place of business stems from the legal duty of care that all property owners owe to any person who is on their property. Small business owners “invite” customers onto their property and thus owe these invitees a high duty of care, which means a duty to use a high level of caution. In most states, business owners have a duty to inspect, make repairs, or warn (when repairs are not possible) regarding any dangerous or hazardous condition on the property. As long as the business owner knew or should have known about the condition, slip and fall liability can apply when an injury occurs.
It’s important to note here that the law imposes a reasonable person standard on the small business owner. This means that is not enough for the owner to claim ignorance of the dangerous condition. If a reasonable person in charge of taking care of the property would have noticed the problem and taken steps to repair or remove the hazard, then the business owner can be held liable. The lesson, then, is to pay strict attention to the care and maintenance of your store or office space.
TIP: Exterior space is a common location for slip and falls at a small business. Keep your parking area free from debris. Make sure cracks or imperfections in cement or blacktop are promptly patched or clearly marked, so they are open and obvious to customers. Clear your lot and walkways of snow, ice, water, or other natural accumulations. These are simple yet essential tasks when trying to reduce the potential for a slip and fall lawsuit. You should also be sure to keep records of your maintenance history in the event that you ever need to prove that you have kept up with all maintenance requirements.
Interior Maintenance and Slip and Fall Liability
Maintaining your business’s interior is generally your responsibility, regardless of whether or not you own the building. This means paying special care to keep the interior of your place of business as free as possible from hazards. Remember that if problems are plainly obvious to any reasonable observer, you have breached the duty of care owed to those who enter your business. Interior hallways or walkways should be clear of debris or potential trip hazards. Cords, wires, boxes, and furniture should not be in walking paths. Furniture should be in good condition and against the wall if at all possible. Carpet and floor mats should be checked regularly to ensure that they do not bunch up or come loose, both of which create tripping hazards.
Pay particular attention to the presence of liquids on the floor of your business. Everything from a spilled cup of coffee to a leaking toilet can be a potential slip hazard. If cleanup cannot be accomplished immediately, clearly mark a spill area and attempt to isolate it from the rest of the room. This makes the hazard as apparent and obvious as possible, so that any reasonable adult should be able to avoid it safely. While most of these suggestions are common sense, potential hazards are sometimes easily forgotten with everything else on your mind. But remember, an ounce of prevention can literally save your business because forgetfulness is not an excuse for failing to maintain your property.
TIP: Prevention, maintenance, and documentation are the weapons in your arsenal to prevent or defeat slip and fall lawsuits. To that end, one suggestion is to create both interior and exterior maintenance checklists. Inspect your property at regular intervals and document all inspections and repairs.
There is no such thing as total immunity from a slip and fall lawsuit. Even if your property is in pristine condition, there is nothing preventing someone who simply falls at your place of business from filing a lawsuit. However, following the suggestions discussed above should drastically reduce the potential for a suit, as well as decrease the value of any lawsuit that isn't dismissed. As with most things in life, common sense should be your guide. If you are aware of a hazard, take steps to reduce or eliminate it, and document your efforts. Make slip and fall prevention part of your business routine. By doing so, you will protect your business and your livelihood against an expensive slip and fall lawsuit.