Avoiding Outdoor Slip and Fall Claims
Slip and fall accidents are among the most common causes of serious injuries each year. Although many happen inside businesses, they also happen outside. In winter, snow and ice lead to wet floors and sidewalks. In summer, increased traffic can result in hurried pedestrians tripping on obstructions.
Small business owners are responsible for their properties' interior and exterior. That duty extends to the parking lot and sidewalk. No matter what type of business you operate, you are responsible for accident prevention wherever a hazard may be on the property.
The best way to avoid a slip and fall lawsuit is by preventing hazardous conditions that could lead to a personal injury case. Review your business insurance policy to know the common conditions in your area. Develop an action plan to deal with them before they happen. This article discusses some common hazards, but your area might have unique difficulties.
Almost every business has a parking lot. In large buildings, such as multi-tenant buildings and strip malls, the building owner may have a maintenance company responsible for the parking lot. The building owner, in this case, is liable for repaving, repairing potholes, and other renovations.
Business owners have a duty to notify the lot owner about any hazardous conditions in the parking lot. If the conditions can't be repaired immediately, owners have a responsibility to their customers and employees to warn them about these conditions.
For example, suppose the parking lot has bad drains and is icy in the winter. Business owners can protect themselves by reminding customers and employees to watch out for icy conditions, even if they can't repair the parking lot drains themselves. Of course, if you own the parking lot, you must fix the drains as soon as is reasonable.
Depending on state premises liability laws, you may need to clean up, hose off, or shovel snow on the sidewalks around your business. If your business facade intrudes on the sidewalk, you may be liable if anyone walks into it and injures themselves.
You must remove any debris or trash that accumulates on the sidewalk or walkways around your business. For example, garbage cans or dumpsters outside your building must be clear of any sidewalks or walkways.
If you have ramped walkways into your business for American Disabilities Act (ADA) compliance, they must have handrails of a specific height. ADA guidelines state that the angle for walkway ramps is about 5% or a ratio of 1:12. These ramps must be structurally sound, covered with skid-proof material, and free of ice, snow, and debris.
Entrances and Exits
Entrances and exits are prime locations for slip-and-fall accidents. Customers will likely be carrying bags and not paying attention to their surroundings. Make sure entry and exit doors are clear and free of obstacles. In hazardous weather conditions, you should place skid-proof mats or carpeting inside and outside. Keep the areas mopped. Place warning signs around wet or slippery areas if the floors are wet.
It's a good idea to have security cameras at entrances and exits for the purpose of loss prevention and recording slip and fall accidents. Some states may require notices advising customers that they are being recorded for security purposes when they enter the store. You should get legal advice before placing any security equipment.
If you're carrying out any construction or repairs on your property, you'll have less concern over customer slip and fall injuries. You must comply with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requirements. All states, except Texas, require employers to carry workers' compensation insurance. OSHA has its own requirements for preventing employee slip and fall injuries at construction sites.
If repairs or renovations are happening inside the building, keep walkways free of trip hazards like boards or barricades. If the repairs cause uneven floors or involve hazardous materials such as paint, consider closing off the entire section until repairs are complete.
Ice, Snow, and Water
You may not need to remove ice and snow all winter. Depending on your parking lot's location, you or the property owner can have a professional snow removal company plow your lot and shovel the sidewalks. Snow seldom causes slip-and-fall injuries—ice is the main culprit. Ice results from snow melt, freezing rain, or burst pipes.
In winter or wet weather, place signs warning of dangerous conditions inside and outside your business. Be alert for slippery floors caused by water or slush tracked in from the street. Mopping up puddles immediately eliminates the primary causes of slip and fall hazards during winter.
Outdoor lighting is a serious issue for premises liability. Poor lighting can be a cause of outdoor slip and fall injuries. Potential hazards, such as broken pavement and debris, are harder to see in the dark. Inadequate lighting can also be a security issue, leading to other liability claims.
If you own the parking lot, you're responsible for maintaining the lights. If you're not the responsible party, you can reduce your liability by promptly notifying the property manager of broken lights or dark corners.
If you know of uneven surfaces or broken lights and cannot remedy them yourself, you can do your best to warn customers of the hazards. If you notify the property manager, document the date and time so there is a record of your attempt to remedy the condition.
Get Legal Advice
Slip and fall cases are frequent because the conditions that cause them are common. You cannot remove every slippery surface and light every stairway. If you have a personal injury claim against your business, you need the help of a defendant-side personal injury attorney. Your insurance company may have its own attorney, but you will need an attorney specializing in defending businesses against personal injury claims. FindLaw's attorney referral site can help you find a personal injury defense attorney near you.
You Don’t Have To Solve This on Your Own – Get a Lawyer’s Help
Meeting with a lawyer can help you understand your options and how to best protect your rights. Visit our attorney directory to find a lawyer near you who can help.