In many ways, it’s a business owner’s worst nightmare—a customer trips and falls on a step in their store, is injured by falling merchandise or slips on a puddle of water in the parking lot. If the injury is serious enough, the customer may try to sue the property owner, alleging that the owner’s negligence contributed to the accident.
Determining liability in these cases can be difficult. Although genuine accidents do happen, so does negligence—on the part of property owners and guests alike. For business owners, the crucial question becomes whether or not they did enough to prevent an accident from occurring, and while it’s easy to imagine a dispute over premises liability turning into a “he said, she said” scenario, there are ways for businesses to protect themselves.
Establish sound policies and procedures
The key step you can take to avoid leaving your business vulnerable to accusations of negligence is establishing and adhering to sound policies and procedures surrounding incident reporting. Ensure managers and supervisors know what to do in the event that an incident occurs, and schedule mandatory training sessions with employees so that they understand what needs to be done, as well as what roles they should play. Having clear policies in place can prevent confusion from taking over and help avoid errors that could compromise the business’s ability to protect itself.
Have staff fill out an incident report
A standard incident report should be part of your company’s document file, and a manager who witnessed the incident or was on duty when it occurred should fill it out. Staff members who were present during an incident or who interacted with the injured customer should provide written statements as soon as possible to ensure it accurately and thoroughly documented.
Given the ubiquity of cell phone cameras these days, getting photographic documentation of the conditions at the site of the incident should also be a priority, and may be included as part of the incident report. If your company does not have an incident report template, consult an experienced attorney to draft one.
Secure statements from witnesses
The role other customers and individuals on the premises can play in documenting an incident should not go unrecognized. Ask anyone who may have witnessed the incident to provide written, audio or even video statements. Procure contact information for any witnesses so they can be followed up with later, and keep all of these materials together with the incident report for easy access.
In the event that someone suffers an injury on your property, having proper policies and procedures in place—and following them—is key to ensuring your business is protected, at least as much as possible, should the victim file a lawsuit. Even if you don’t expect an injury victim to sue your business, it’s still prudent to speak with an attorney who’s experienced in defending organizations against premises liability suits.
BoltNagi is a well-respected and established corporate law firm serving businesses and organizations throughout the U.S. Virgin Islands.