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The Small Business Owner and Slip-and-Fall Accidents

Small businesses and large businesses share personal injury cases in common. Liability for slip-and-fall accidents is a nightmare for small business owners, big stores, and insurance companies. Liability insurance may not protect a business if a customer slips and falls on your property or takes a header in an icy parking lot.

This article reviews slip-and-fall accidents, how to avoid them, and what to do if a customer files a claim.

"Slip-and-Fall" Overview

A "slip-and-fall" accident is an injury due to a slip or trip. Insurers call these "premises liability" claims. They occur on private property, and the owner of the property is typically liable for the harm.

Common causes of slip-and-fall accidents are wet floors, torn carpets, or trash or debris blocking hallways. Slip-and-fall accidents often occur inside a business or property but can occur outside on land owned by the business. Ice and snow on walkways or potholes in parking lots attached to business properties are common locations for slip-and-fall cases.

Slips and falls can cause serious injuries. Although the media is full of scam artists filing fraudulent slip-and-fall claims, businesses must treat them as genuine. Victims often suffer injuries requiring extensive medical attention. Business owners who treat these cases as serious fare better in court than those who do not.

Elements of a Slip-and-Fall Lawsuit

Slip-and-fall lawsuits are personal injury claims. These involve proving negligence. The plaintiff must prove four elements of negligence to show that the property owner was negligent and legally responsible for the customer's injuries. They are:

  • The owner had a duty toward the customer.
  • The owner breached their duty.
  • The breach was the actual cause of the customer's injury.
  • The customer suffered an actual injury because of the breach.

For instance, a grocery store owes a duty to customers to keep the floors clean and debris-free. If liquids or other items create slippery floors, the store manager has a duty to clean the floors at once and place warning signs so customers can avoid the area. Failing to do so would create a breach of duty.

If a customer slips and falls in spilled oil and breaks an ankle, they may have a claim against the grocery store. They can claim medical expenses and lost wages. They may claim pain and suffering, depending on their state's laws.

Other Types of Negligence

Sometimes, the customer may not need to prove the owner was negligent. These special cases will require the services of an attorney. A business owner should consult a personal injury defense attorney for a proper defense. Types of negligence include:

  • Negligence per se: If the state or county has a law requiring a business to do something or not to do something, and the business fails to follow the law, injuring a patron, it is negligence per se. In these cases, the plaintiff only has to prove that an injury occurred due to the breach and that they suffered damages. If building codes require handrails in stairways, and the owner fails to install them, resulting in injury, this might be negligence per se.
  • Res ipsa loquitur: This is a Latin phrase meaning "the thing speaks for itself." This doctrine creates a presumption of negligence if the event could only have happened if someone was careless. A typical example is a surgeon leaving a medical instrument inside a patient.
  • Dangerous conditions: A "dangerous condition" is an unusual type of negligence. A dangerous condition creates a serious risk of harm if the customer uses the property correctly, even with reasonable precautions. Diving boards, skate parks, and similar high-risk areas are likely to be areas with dangerous conditions. For the owner to be liable for a dangerous condition, they must know of the condition, it must have been there for a long time, and they must not have attempted to fix it.

Defending Against Slip-and-Fall Claims

Property liability claims do not cover carelessness or recklessness. The injured party must show that the property owner knew or should have known about the hazard and failed to correct it. Business owners defend against slip-and-fall claims by using common-sense precautions. These include:

  • Reasonable person standard: Property owners are only liable for hazards they knew or "reasonably should have known" existed. A cleaning or maintenance schedule helps show an owner does everything possible to recognize and remove hazards before they can cause injury.
  • Open and obvious standard: If a hazard is "open and obvious," then the property owner is not liable for injuries sustained because of the hazard. A typical example is a fenced and locked construction site. Business owners can avoid liability by ensuring all known dangers are marked, barricaded, or closed off from the public.
  • Shared liability: This is also known as "third-party liability." If another party, such as a vendor, caused the dangerous condition, the property owner may not be fully at fault for the injury.

Property damage due to circumstances beyond the owner's control, such as natural disasters, may be considered a special case. Consult your business insurance agent for these types of claims.

Types of Insurance

Business insurance covers most slip-and-fall accidents. If a business owner has taken all precautions to keep the property safe and protect their customers from injury, their insurance policy should cover the claimant's medical bills. Some of the types of insurance a property owner should consider to protect their assets include:

  • Home Based insurance: As the name might indicate, this protects the contents of a home against fire, theft, water damage, and other harm. It also covers injuries to visitors and guests to the property.
  • General liability insurance: This covers most forms of insurance claims for basic claims. It will pay for medical treatment and lost wages as described in a slip and fall claim. It may not cover other types of liability.
  • Commercial property insurance: This type has a variety of subcategories and provides coverage for property damage, workers' compensation, personal liability, and product liability. Your state may have specific compensation insurance requirements, depending on your business's nature. Discuss your needs with a business insurance agent.

Get Legal Help Defending Against a Slip-and-Fall Injury Claim

If you're a small business owner with a potential slip-and-fall injury claim, you should discuss your case with an experienced personal injury defense attorney. An attorney will explore all possible defense options and strategies available to you. They will help protect your business's liability exposure at every step in the process.

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