If you are a property owner, anyone coming through your door or walking along the sidewalk outside could be a plaintiff naming you as the adverse party in a premises liability suit. While not all accidents are preventable, there are several ways a property owner can limit the risks of an accident that can trigger a premises liability suit.
To begin, a property owner needs to be reasonably aware of any dangers on and around the premises. That means making sure that a property, whether it is commercial or private, is kept in good condition. Many hazards, including common causes of slip-and-fall accidents such as snow covered sidewalks and leaking gutters, are very obvious and can be dealt with directly. Other common causes of accidents that involve premises liability include crumbling steps, missing or broken handrails, falling objects, inadequate lighting, unmarked or concealed holes or excavations, and unsecured mats.
Conducting routine inspections of a property can help to identify any changes in structural and safety conditions. If a hazard is identified, steps should be taken to clearly identify the problem. For repair or renovation work involving contractors, it is important that the business has a certificate of insurance on file to further limit your liability while a company representative is performing any work on site.
For business owners, it can be helpful to establish an ongoing hazard awareness program among employees. For example, a written maintenance procedure could include a routine inspection schedule and a checklist to look for hazards that could cause an accident. The policy should make clear the procedures for reporting a maintenance issue or liability hazard and the proper steps for alerting visitors to avoid any hazard until it has been repaired or removed. Having a written record of repairs, replacements, and renovations can also prove valuable.
Another way of protecting a business from premises liability claims is to purchase premises liability insurance. This form of insurance protects a property owner from claims that a person was injured while on the premises. Such policies protect against payments as the result of bodily injury, property damage, medical expenses, the cost of defending lawsuits, and settlement bonds or judgments as part of an appeals process. However, when comparing policies, it is important to understand the limits in terms of both scope and coverage.
Inspections ordered by an insurance underwriter can help to identify deficiencies in a property’s liability, such as a gutter downspout that drains onto a walkway, the presence (or absence) of a snow removal program or a missing or loose handrail on a flight of steps can pose hazards for both visitors and passersby. Some underwriters automatically request a survey of a property in order to determine what, if any, hazards exist.
Not all accidents can be avoided, of course, but it is possible to correct many of the unsafe conditions in and around a property that can trigger a premises liability suit. As always, it’s better to be safe than sorry.