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August 2004

Premises Liability — Avoid the HIgh Cost of These Claims

Slips, trips and falls cause thousands of accidents and serious injuries every year. A tragic number of cases end up in permanent injury or death, and the dollar costs associated with these cases can be tremendous. The liability connected with these and other premises issues often falls on the business owner.

These accidents also have an adverse effect on employees. An analysis of workplace losses indicates that falls from elevated areas (ladders, stairways, elevated storage areas, etc.) account for the highest severity of injuries and the most deaths. Falls occurring on level surfaces, although generally less severe, constitute the large percentage of recordable injury. Controls you implement to protect the general public will also help to prevent employee accidents.

Falls on level surfaces
The major cause of these falls involves the customer tripping over objects. Customers trip over such items as telephone or electrical cords, floor-mounted outlets, defective floor surfaces, including broken or cracked tiles, frayed or loose rugs, and plastic carpet covers with curled edges.

The type of floor surface often presents a hazard that is directly responsible for accidents. Even if a floor defect did not contribute to the accident, claimants often include such unsatisfactory conditions in their negligence claims.

Unsafe floor conditions
It is essential that unsafe floor conditions such as the following be corrected promptly.

Floors exposed to moisture – In areas where moisture may be blown or tracked in during bad weather, rubber mats provide the best type of protection. Permanently installed mats recessed into the floor are preferable. Next best is a surface mat left in place at all times or at least during inclement weather conditions.

Floor spills – Clean up should be immediately after maintenance personnel are made aware of the spill. Isolate the spill area by placing cones or barriers around it.

Inherently slippery floors – These include highly polished but unwaxed marble and terrazzo floors. Covering paths of travel can reduce the hazard with suitable non-slip material such as carpet or rubber matting. There are also terrazzos made with non-slip material added to them.

Outdoor walking surfaces – Sidewalks, curbs and parking lots also present many trip and fall hazards. Inspect these areas continually for holes, uneven surfaces and broken pavement. It is recommended that you paint curb facings a bright color to highlight the “step-up.” A comprehensive snow removal program is essential in areas of the country where it is necessary.

Falls from elevated surfaces
The most severe type of falls occur from one level to another. Falls from chairs, stairs, ladders, elevators or other raised surfaces can cause severe injuries and, in some cases, death. According to information gathered by the Consumer Product Safety Commission and the National Bureau of Standards, there are approximately five million stair fall cases per year.

Other concerns
Onsite traffic patterns – Mark pedestrian walkways on the parking lot surface to identify safe walking paths for customers. Traffic flow in and out of your facilities should avoid areas where pedestrians commonly travel.

Install speed bumps, “caution” and “stop” signs where appropriate to help control traffic.

Display stands – Large, heavy items (tires, wheels, auto parts, etc.) are often displayed on tall, freestanding racks or shelves. Unless sufficiently stable or secured to a wall, these stands (and the items on display) can fall over on small children or adults and cause substantial injuries. Wall-mounted TV stands offer a similar exposure. Be sure to follow the manufacturer’s installation instructions closely – these stands should be fastened securely to the wall studs, not drywall.

Overhead doors – Make sure the area is clear before closing overhead doors. Someone walking through the area can be struck in the head as the door is closing.

Self inspections – Periodic inspection tailored to the needs of the facility can help reduce the number of falls and premises liability incidents. Individuals trained in hazard recognition should perform the inspection. Identified hazards should be immediately corrected to reduce exposure to customers, visitors and employees. Management follow-up is a necessity; it is important to ensure that discrepancies are corrected in a timely manner.

For information about how Universal Underwriters Group’s Special Account Services Division can help meet the special needs of your automotive recycling business, call 1-800-840-8842, ext. 4845, visit our website at www.UniversalUnderwriters.com or e-mail to uuic.specaccts@zurichna.com.

This article is provided for informational purposes only. Please consult with qualified legal counsel to address your particular circumstances and needs. Universal Underwriters Group is not providing legal advice and assumes no liability concerning the information set forth above.


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