Slip and Fall Claims from a Liability Perspective

Did you know the largest single claim type, in terms of frequency and overall claim cost to Society Insurance insureds, is the slip/trip and fall claim? In 2014 alone this type of loss was close to 50% for both liability claims received and liability payments. How do you tackle such a giant loss leader you ask?  I think of it this way; the best way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time. Let’s break this down, one bite at a time.

Most business owners think that falls at retail establishments are mainly a result of snow and ice and there is little you can do about this given snow and ice is a part of living in the Midwest.  Society Insurance has collected years of data on slips/trips and falls and determined that a good portion of falls occur in the interiors of many of our niche businesses.  The cause of falls does not vary much, so narrowing down the leading causes is not that complicated. Most falls are a result of two general causes-temporary conditions and defects. Defects are things that are related to the structure or its equipment which pose a hazard such as a missing tile, leaking pipe, an out of code threshold or a defective stair case. A temporary condition is typically a result the business owner’s operations; this condition can be caused by the business owner and/or their employees or by a customer. Examples of these are mopping by an employee or a customer dropping product on the floor. Now that we have taken the first big bite of the elephant by breaking down the leading causes of falls let’s take a second bite and take a peek at how these leading causes are viewed  by the law of liability.

Most states use the reasonable business owner standard to determine duty to act on reported hazards, inspect or repair. In other words, a business owner has a duty to take reasonable steps to protect its customers from known hazards and to inspect their property to find hazards. The timeliness of cleaning or repairing known hazards is up to a jury to decide as well as the frequency of the inspections. Now that we understand the standard we are ready for our next bite of the elephant – what type of simple program can a retail business implement to reduce the frequency of losses as well as the potential of legal liability place on them if an accident should occur?

Here is a five-step program Society Insurance has implemented in some of our insured businesses that has had success in reducing the number of falls and establishing defenses if a claim is presented.

  1. Surveillance system. Such a system records and preserves the facts of the accident. It is a very powerful piece of evidence for the jury, if a trial is needed.
  2. A well-established program for regular inspection and clean up. This must be accepted and bought into by all employees. A program like this is the best loss prevention method since hazards are discovered and removed immediately. If a loss does occur a good program can demonstrate to a jury that the “reasonable” standard is met.
  3. Clean up supplies and caution cones available throughout the place of business for employees and customers to use when a hazard is discovered. This procedure alerts everyone to a potential hazard. It demonstrate the “reasonable” standard is met, gets customers involved in warning of hazards and provides easy access equipment which both warns and prevents problems.
  4. A rug program with a well-established rug vendor to assure proper type and locations of rugs. Proper rugs at entrances remove outdoor moistures from feet. Properly weighted rugs reduce “curling” to remove trip hazards.
  5. A program for reporting and documenting all accidents. This includes an incident report with witness names and contact information, and photographs of the scene. Memorializing the facts with photos and an incident report after a loss aids in the same way as surveillance does. Collection of witness names and the injured party’s accident version is vital. Statements taken right after the accident are as close to the truth you will get.

You see, eating an elephant is not nearly as hard if broken down into bite size pieces. By implementing all or some of the above five procedures and getting all your employees to “buy in,” you can tackle the largest liability exposure your business faces. Also, please do not think you have to set the process and procedures on your own. Society Insurance is here to help you get it going-simply contact your agent to get in touch with us to begin the conversation.

-Gina Pfalzgraf

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