Chapter 4: Building a Risk Management Plan for Your Cleaning Business
Part 2: Determining Liability in Slip-and-Fall Cases
It's a nightmare scenario for a cleaning business: someone enters the premises, slips on a slick floor, and breaks a bone. As a cleaning business owner, this kind of tragedy can cost you everything — especially if you're found liable for the incident.
But what factors determine who's held responsible for these accidents? And will your insurance raft you through the ordeal?
Let's get to the bottom of slip-and-fall liability so you can clearly understand your risks and prime yourself to avoid them.
Who Can Be Sued for Slip-and-Fall Accidents?
Typically, the person who owns the premises on which a slip-and-fall accident happens is targeted in the lawsuit to recover damages. However, a savvy lawyer looking to make the most money for his client capitalizes on the opportunity to name all plausible defendants in his suit.
For slip-and-fall incidents, a number of people may be held responsible for a person's injuries. For example, the following people can be sued when a slip-and-fall injury happens in a commercial setting:
- The owner of the property.
- The business owner who rents commercial space.
- The owner of the janitorial services company that was hired to maintain the space.
A residential environment doesn't bar you from liability, either. Say your cleaning business is hired to maintain an apartment complex. If you fail to properly care for the property as contracted, both you and the property owner could be sued for injuries caused by dangerous property conditions.
Law and Liability
The laws that permit a third party to sue for premises liability center on the following principles:
- The property owner or an employee caused the slick surface.
- The property owner or an employee knew about the dangerous surface but did nothing about it.
- The property owner or an employee should have reasonably known about the dangerous surface and removed it.
For cleaning and maintenance professionals, the second point is the most relevant. When you create a slippery surface by mopping or waxing floors, it's your duty to warn others of the potential hazard.
Let's take a closer look at what a "duty to warn" entails.
Duty to Warn: Are You Giving Enough Danger Notice?
A "duty to warn" is a concept that involves legal liability in tort claims. Essentially, a party can be held liable for someone's injuries if the party could have warned the other person of a hazard, but didn't.
To protect your business from slip-and-fall liabilities, you need to make sure you warn others about potential fall hazards by communicating…
- The severity of the potential hazard (i.e., the likelihood that it will occur).
- The nature and consequences of the hazard.
- Instructions on how to avoid the hazard.
For instance, if you've just mopped a lobby floor, you would use yellow warning signs that depict a person slipping and falling. The sign should say, Caution: Slippery Surface, or something to that effect.
This precaution doesn't guarantee that people won't get hurt or that your business won't be sued. It does, however, reduce the chance of a plaintiff successfully suing your business.
Next: Chapter 4.3: Preventing Slip-and-Fall Injuries and Liabilities
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