| William E. Pinkston
Denton Law Firm
555 Jefferson Street
Paducah, Kentucky 42001
A significant part of our law firm’s defense representation of businesses over the years has been to defend lawsuits brought by customers of our clients who’ve alleged that they’ve slipped and fallen in the store or on the premises and have filed lawsuits to recover damages for their claimed injuries. We’ve heard many stories over the years from our clients’ customers who have fallen or claimed to have fallen. Those stories and experiences have provided us with insight on how to advise business operators to minimize the slip-and-fall risk in the first place and then control the financial impact of the event after it has occurred.
As a business owner/operator, sooner or later a customer is going to trip or slip and fall in/on your premises and claim injuries that he or she will want you to be responsible for paying. Here are some simple common-sense tips on how to handle this issue, both before the accident and after its occurrence.
Before the accident:
- Make sure you’ve got premises liability insurance. Talk to your insurance agent and have the insurance company provide you with a copy of both the declaration page, showing the limits of your coverage, as well as a copy of the actual policy itself. Keep these in a safe place.
- Train your employees how to spot slip/trip hazards and the steps needed to prevent them. I’m a big fan of periodic safety meetings for your staff, and this is a topic that’s simple and can pay dividends later.
- Keep a clean floor! This is so simple as to be almost a “duh, I knew that” pointer, but I’m always surprised at how often a dirty or cluttered floor has contributed to the cause of an accident that otherwise could have been prevented.
- Identify and correct design flaws in your premises that invite accidents. For example, one of our clients maintained a sunken reception or seating area in his store. Several times a year customers would trip on the steps leading down to the seating area. Once the sunken area was “filled in,” the trip accidents ceased.
- Clean your parking lot! Many businesses’ tenants will have contracts in which the landlord will agree to keep the parking lot clean and picked up. If you own your own parking lot, hire someone to clean it daily or do it yourself.
- Be on constant lookout for spills and errant objects lying on the floor in wait for an unwary customer. When you spot a spill, ideally have your employee stand there until someone can come with the mop. If not, get a warning sign placed immediately.
- Fix broken, cracked or defective walking surfaces! The money you spend on repairs is an investment in accident prevention and loss minimization.
- Similar to above, fix walking surfaces that “pond” rain water.
- Place mats at your entrance vestibule in wet or snowy weather to provide traction for your customers. Please don’t let the mats themselves get sodden or slippery: replace them periodically!
- If you’ve got a wet spot due to rainy or snowy weather, place large warning cones or signs to call customers’ attention to the spot.
- Stairs or steps are deadly. Make sure your stair or step is of the proper width per applicable building codes and that it has hand rails that are to code. Have your insurance agent advise you on this.
- Don’t hesitate to paint a stripe or place a warning strip on surfaces that may lend themselves to trip or falls. Ramps are common trip hazards and a little paint can help minimize that risk.
After the accident:
- Help your customer! Call for emergency medical assistance if the injury appears significant. Be a calm, caring, and reassuring voice in the ear of your customer. Many potential claims can be defused by showing care and concern.
- Write down your fallen customer’s name, address, phone, and email. Give the customer your business card.
- Right then and there, conduct your own investigation: determine “what happened.” Get a written statement from your fallen customer; take photos of the location of the fall; determine what the customer fell in or on; if a liquid substance, measure the dimensions of the “puddle”; determine the nature of the liquid: is it water? Soda?
- If a dangerous condition now prevails on your property, barricade the condition, mark it with cones, guard the spot with other employees, or otherwise take every measure to keep other customers from falling in the same spot or condition.
- Call your insurance agent! Your agent will take steps to send an adjuster over to investigate in more depth.
- Write down what you heard and saw about the accident and what actions you took in its wake. Be as thorough as you can be. This will help your adjuster in the investigation and will preserve your own memory.
- Write down the names, addresses, and phone numbers of all witnesses.
- Talk to the witnesses; write down their observations in as much detail as possible.
- If you are served with court papers—a summons and a complaint from the person who fell–immediately call your insurance agent and deliver these suit papers to the agent.
- Assemble the documents, photos, and all other materials you’ve gathered over the course of your investigation for delivery to the attorney assigned to defend you.
Years ago the boating industry ran a television commercial that said “Safe boating is no accident.” That same simple philosophy applies as well to the maintenance and inspection of your business premises. Paying attention to these simple safety considerations will keep your risks from customer slip-and-fall accidents under control and, more importantly, protect your customers – who are your livelihood.