Avoiding lawsuits, whether it is your home or business, means taking care of your property. "It’s very important for business," said Brian Weber, a Johns, Flaherty & Collins attorney.
"Keep your sidewalks, driveways and parking areas clear of ice and snow. Stay on top of building maintenance issues to make sure water is not draining on sidewalks or another area where the water can freeze," he said.
If you hire someone to clear these areas, Weber said it is important to have a written contract indicating the worker is an independent contractor and not an employee. The document should also hold the company harmless if sued because of a weather-related fall.
Clauses also should indicate when and where snow removal should be done—such as before the time your business would open and the minimum depth of snow when the plowing should begin.
Other needs for businesses include making sure your insurance covers risks your company may have should a slip and fall occur.
Beyond winter conditions, it is important to maintain a safe place for your employees and customers. That means repairing uneven steps or flooring. Posting a sign—giving notice—warning about these conditions may minimize liability, but not prevent it.
"Posting a sign puts people on notice to take extra caution," Weber said. "A business would be less likely to have responsibility for injuries if the sign is put up, but slip and fall lawsuits can be expensive to defend even if you don’t ultimately have financial liability."
While businesses are held to a higher standard than homeowners, someone falling on a sidewalk in front of your house could also result in a lawsuit. Homeowners would be wise to follow the same guidelines as businesses.
Tips to avoid slip and falls
While it may be unclear who caused a dangerous condition, it is important to be alert to the danger and to have it promptly repaired or removed to ensure a safe environment—because whatever, whoever the cause, the property owner could be held liable.
A business further needs to have company-wide awareness about the importance of maintaining the property—not just those whose job it is to clean or keep it in good repair.
What should you do?
Clean up intermittent spills as soon as they occur and encourage others to be on the lookout for them.
Remove snow and ice from doorways, sidewalks and parking areas.
Eliminate clutter, particularly if it obstructs views.
Tape or tack down mats, rugs and carpets, and make sure there are no carpet wrinkles or electrical cords or other items that could cause someone to trip.
Always close cabinets or storage drawers.
Keep work areas and walkways well lit.
For more information on business liability, contact Brian Weber at 608-784-5678.