Falls are the most common preventable injury in the U.S. and the third-leading cause of death. Most causes of falls are preventable and involve unsafe conditions, including loose carpets, wet floors, damaged stairs, and other neglected items.
Your agency hosts visitors, vendors, contractors, and employees. You must maintain a safe environment for them, and if you don’t–you will likely face premises liability. This theory of negligence holds you responsible for your office’s condition, and claims can be expensive.
You must take steps to ensure no one is injured at your office. Here is an overview of premises liability and how you can protect your agency from these claims.
What is Premises Liability?
Premises liability is a negligence theory regarding property conditions. It applies to injuries resulting from failure to maintain safe conditions, repair hazards, or warn of possible dangers. Your liability is not limited to inside your office; sidewalks, stairs, patios, and other outdoor features can present hazards to your visitors.
Slip-and-fall cases are the most commonly discussed premises liability claims. They include slips, trips, and falls due to:
- Damaged floors and staircases
- Wet or oily floors
- Loose carpets and rugs
- Icy or snowy stairs and sidewalks
- Exposed extension cords
The theory also applies to building security. Property owners can face liability if they fail to install proper lighting, alarms, or door locks. If these failures lead to someone being hurt or killed, that can also lead to a premises liability claim. You do not need a slip and fall incident to face premises liability.
Other premises liability claims are environmental. For example, you can face a lawsuit if you do not report a gas leak and a client or vendor gets sick. If rickety bookshelves or office furniture hurt a client or employee, the same is true. That is why we encourage you to update technology and create safe workstations; people can and do get hurt and hold their employers liable.
Anyone who visits your office and sustains an injury can file a premises liability claim. This liability becomes double if the accident victim is an employee; your worker could file a premises liability claim as a civil suit and collect workers’ compensation.
An injury victim prevails in premises liability law if they show you were negligent regarding the ownership and maintenance of the property. It is a reasonable care standard: You can face liability if you knew or should have known of the dangerous condition.
Who is Liable for Premises Liability Accidents?
First, it is essential to realize that you can face liability even if you rent your premises. Many commercial leasing agreements indicate you are responsible for repairs and maintenance. If you fail to repair broken stairs or wipe up water puddles, you can face liability, even if you do not own the property.
But if the property owner is responsible for some maintenance, like stairs, lights, or patios, you may avoid liability–if you reported the condition and they failed to repair it. In that case, the injury victim will pursue your agency and the property owner. Or you can countersue the property owner for placing you in a position where you must defend a lawsuit.
Other parties can be liable too. For example, if you remodeled the front stairs, and they break anyway, you can pursue the contractor if someone is hurt and sues you.
Basically, there are many scenarios for premises liability and possible negligence. When you face these complex situations, it is important to consult with an attorney.
How Can My Agency Prevent Premises Liability Accidents?
Fortunately, most premises liability claims are preventable. Follow these five tips to keep these claims far at bay:
- Listen: Take unsafe condition reports seriously. Do not immediately assume someone is out to get you or an employee is merely complaining. Start acting on the information immediately.
- Inspect property conditions: When you receive a report, inspect the condition. See where it is and make a plan to fix it. Ask employees to monitor workplace and office conditions and encourage them to report hazards. While this may seem like a productivity killer, it will save you time and money by preventing injuries and claims.
- Fix the condition: Correct hazards immediately. Remove damaged wobbly furniture, loose rugs, and exposed cords. Clean up spills, and encourage employees to do the same. Hire a snow removal company to control ice and snow build-up on your office front.
- Warn: If you cannot correct a danger immediately, find some signage. We are all familiar with the “wet floor” signs in public restrooms and grocery stores. These signs prevent liability by warning customers. Take the same precautions. If you find stairs or an entranceway unsafe, tie it off and direct visitors to use another door. Also, your building may have elements that are dangerous but not repairable. For example, some older buildings have lower-than-usual doorways or deep step-downs. Place signs warning of these conditions, too, so no one hits their head or twists an ankle.
- Keep your premises updated: Steep staircases with flimsy rails and creaking elevators are not just difficult or scary–they are liability magnets. Update your property as needed. Add anti-slip tape on stairs and mats to kitchen areas where people may spill liquids. Make sure your accessible bathrooms have secure railings. Your property’s safety is up to you; take care of it so your employees, vendors, and clients can visit your agency without injury!
Protect Your Agency from Premises Liability
American Agents Alliance wants your agency to thrive and avoid negligence pitfalls, like premises liability. Consulting services, educational resources, and other membership benefits can help you design a safe workplace and avoid claims. Become a member today and see what we offer.