Damage Control

Foreseeable Dangers

Chances are, if your business is sued over an injury, the case will involve an accident the injured party claims could have been foreseen. In Illinois, a man who fractured his ankle in a fall on a company's sidewalk was awarded $124,687. He argued that the sidewalk had been negligently installed so it was too steep and that the company had failed to remove a buildup of ice.

In New York, a 74-year-old man won $800,000 after tripping and falling over a depression in the sidewalk at his apartment complex. The housing authority and the tenants' corporation had been arguing over whose responsibility it was to repair the sidewalk, but neither had done so.

In Missouri, a customer was awarded $25,000 after slipping and falling on a wet floor in a retail store. The customer argued that there were no warning signs. Because there was a mop bucket with a "Wet Floor" sign in the area, the plaintiff was found to be only 40 percent negligent, so the award was cut to $15,000.

The key to avoiding trouble in this area is fairly simple: Maintain your property to reduce the chance of accidents, and warn the public of known dangers. If an injury leads to a lawsuit, the court will ask whether the business owner or employees should have noticed the danger and taken steps to correct it. Some preventive actions to take:

  • Make sure merchandise displays are safely stacked.
  • Avoid tripping hazards by removing debris from the floor and securing carpets and mats.
  • Avoid slippery floors by repairing leaky coolers and mopping tracked-in slush and mud. Have employees post "Wet Floor" signs every time they mop.
  • Remove snow and ice promptly from sidewalks and parking lots.
  • Teach employees how to respond in case of a holdup.
  • If a customer acts erratically or shows hostile behavior, call the police immediately.
  • If you think a customer might be in danger, provide an escort.
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This article was originally published in the August 1998 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Damage Control.

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