It’s every business owner’s worst nightmare; you’re inside your business working on your day-to-day. Suddenly, someone enters your store. “Someone fell!” They exclaim. You go outside to find a person on the ground. They look injured and it’s clear that they slipped or stumbled on your property.
Is the person okay? Are you to blame? What should you even say? Does apologizing admit fault? These are just a few questions racing through your head when an injury occurs on your property. Be it a wet floor, uneven pavement, or an icy sidewalk, it’s your responsibility to keep your property safe for patrons. Yet, what is the meaning of “safe” according to the letter of the law? What are you responsible for? These are the types of questions best answered before an accident occurs. Let’s dive into slip and fall accidents and help you develop a plan to, at best, keep a slip or fall from ever happening and, at worst, prepare you should it ever happen.
What Does a Slip & Fall Accident Look Like & Who is Responsible?
Not all injuries on your property are your responsibility. It’s important for you as a property owner to understand when or if you are held liable for someone who is injured in a slip or fall. Injury claims can be expensive; make sure you’re responsible for one. Here’s the breakdown:
- Hazardous or dangerous conditions must be at play. Tripping on even sidewalk on a dry and sunny day won’t cut it in most cases.
- The injury must have been sustained on private property (in this case, your private property). A patron cannot hold you accountable for an injury sustained adjacent but outside of your property.
- The owner of said property must be proven to be responsible for the hazardous conditions leading to the injury. For example, if your groundskeeper didn’t clear away snow and ice after a blizzard, you’re on the hook as the property owner for a slip and fall on your property.
- In many cases, you, as the owner, must have been aware of the hazardous conditions or they were presented in such an obvious manner that you should have been aware of.
- As the owner, you must have left the hazardous conditions long enough to be deemed inappropriate. For instance, most cities will give you a clear window for removing snow and ice. If you fail to follow that ordinance than you are most certainly on the hook.
How Should I Respond to a Slip & Fall Accident?
Should a slip and fall occur on your property you would benefit greatly from having thought through your response plan. Better yet, having a slip and fall checklist would ensure that you are prepared and systematic with your response. This is what we suggest:
- Assist with the injured person. It’s your responsibility, as the property owner, to be swift in your response to the injured party. Immediately determine if the person requires medical attention. If so, call 911. While you need to assist, ensure you do not speak freely about the cause, supposed blame, or any kind of promise of payment. Focus on the person’s comfort and nothing else.
- Document everything. Regardless of whether or not an actual injury occurred, document everything leading up to the incident and after. Take photos of the area and answer these questions:
- What is the person’s full name, address, and contact information?
- Where did the incident occur?
- What does the area look like? Is there an obvious cause for the injury?
- What footwear was the person wearing? What condition was it in?
- Properly report the injury. You must report the incident to your insurance agent, especially any loss occurred due to the accident. If the person was an employee, then follow proper workman’s compensation practices.
- Investigate the incident and fix it. If you observed a condition that you feel lead to the slip and fall, ask yourself how you can rectify it. Would it be as simple as hiring a snow removal company to come in and clear your property of snow and ice?
What Can a Slip & Fall Accident Cost Me?
Medicals bills aren’t cheap! According to the Center for Disease Control, the average cost of a slip and fall injury claims are more than $30,000. Furthermore, only 5% of slip and fall accidents lead to broken bones. To put it simply, a slip and fall victim can easily bring a case to a personal injury law firm even if you thought their injuries at the time were minor. After all, it’s impossible to determine the extent of an injury at the time of an accident.
It goes without saying that you should treat every slip and fall seriously. Beyond that, you should try your best to prevent them entirely. Keeping your property safe should be one of the many commitments you make to the public as a business or property owner.
Are There Precautions I Can Take as a Business Owner?
There are plenty of things you can do to prevent injuries on your property. It’s much easier to develop a checklist that you can periodically rely on to ensure your cultivating a safe environment for you, your employees, and the public. This is what we suggest:
- Are your parking lots free of potholes, depressions, or damaged surfaces?
- Are your curbs even and in good condition?
- Are curbs, crosswalks, and portions of uneven pavement clearly marked?
- After cleaning, do you properly denote your wet floor?
- Is your property adequately lit for safe walking?
- Are your sidewalks even and smooth?
- Are walkways that are prone to icy conditions coated or otherwise outfitted with a textured finish for reliable purchase?
- Do you have a functioning snow and ice removal plan? If not, have you outsourced your snow and ice removal to a professional and dependable third party?
Slips & Falls Are Avoidable with the Right Preparedness
Preparation is the key to ensuring that your property remains a safe place regardless of the weather. As we mentioned previously, we recommend both an injury response checklist as well as a precautions checklist to ensure you aren’t forgetting important details—it’s easy to get caught up in the moment or grow complement.
Most of all, snow and ice are no joke. As a business owner, it’s always a challenge to clear your property yourself, especially if you’re expected to put in a full day of work after. Professional snow and ice removal is upfront peace of mind at a reasonable cost and it’s one of the easiest ways to safeguard yourself from being held liable for a slip and fall.