Building liability lawsuits are on the rise and no business is immune. The most common lawsuits involve “slip and fall” accidents. The most common cause is spilled liquids or other materials that fall to the floor where a person could trip or slip on. Slip and fall accidents occur primarily in grocery stores and retail establishments, but they can occur anywhere, such as shopping mall parking lots, apartment complex courtyards, hotel lobbies and hallways, for example. In addition to slips and falls, your small business is responsible for accidents resulting from fires, falling objects, dangerous equipment, and even assaults that occur on your premises. Workplace liability insurance, usually part of a commercial general liability policy, is your first line of defense.
Some building liability claims are legitimate, but many are frivolous or even fraudulent. Insurance companies and defense attorneys are trained to spot false messages, and the cost of investigation and defense is part of your business liability insurance coverage. But you can and should take steps to prevent accidents and avoid being a target.
Most states require that you, as the business owner, exercise reasonable care to protect customers and visitors from injury by maintaining your property in a safe condition. In general, you are not expected to protect people from obvious, hidden, or unknown dangers. But, and this is a big deal, the plaintiff’s attorney may effectively argue that the danger was not entirely apparent, or the jury may find that you should have been aware of the hidden danger. This is where Reasonable Care comes in. Here’s what you can do.
- Write a maintenance procedure that includes a routine schedule to check for hazards and defects that could cause an accident. Keep a written record of when something is being repaired or replaced. This can go all the way toward showing that you are conscientious.
- Train managers and employees to be aware of potential risks. Make sure they know the policy to report a problem, fix it if possible, and alert customers to avoid it until it’s fixed.
- Install security cameras where possible and post visual notifications that cameras are in place. Knowing that it is being recorded may discourage scammers.
- Ensure parking areas, entrances, driveways and driveways are well lit.
- Review commercial liability insurance periodically. As your business grows, consider increasing your commercial liability coverage.