How to Protect your Small Business from Cold Weather Lawsuits

December 30, 2015

During winter the likelihood of accidents increases in those parts of the country where cold weather affects walking, driving and working conditions. As a business owner, you could be liable for accidents and injuries caused by cold-weather hazards. Here’s what Hiscox Small Business Insurance recommends that you should know.

The most common type of accident that leads to injury in the winter months is a ‘slip and fall’ or ‘trip and fall’  accident. A slip and fall occurs when someone slips on ice or snow, or on water on a slick surface. So-called ‘black ice’ is particularly treacherous because it’s a thin layer of ice on a dark surface, and is therefore nearly invisible. A trip and fall accident is the result of someone tripping over an uneven surface, which can be a pothole in a paved surface, or an area rug inside a home or office.

What constitutes ‘slip (or trip) and fall?’

There are three factors that need to be present in order to assign legal responsibility for a slip or trip and fall accident.

• The party must have caused the slippery surface or dangerous condition such as a torn carpet.

• They must have known about the danger and ignored it, or

• They should have known about the danger because a reasonable person would have discovered it.

Clearly, this last factor is somewhat subjective, and that may be the reason there are so many slip and fall lawsuits. Terms like ‘should have known’ and ‘reasonable person’ leave a lot of room for interpretation. For this reason, many slip and fall lawsuits or claims are found not to have merit.

Attorney’s Fees Can Add Up

Even those claims that are dismissed, however, can be costly for the defendant. You may have to pay an attorney to defend you, and you may have to take time away from work in order to meet with your attorney or the plaintiff’s attorney. Even if the case seems likely to be decided in your favor, you may be advised to settle in order to avoid further expense and distraction.

Keep in mind that a slip and fall can happen in many circumstances. The situation that immediately springs to mind is ice on a driveway or sidewalk. But water on a slick indoor surface like tile or linoleum is a also a hazard.

Watch out for the ‘Trip and Fall’

Akin to a slip and fall accident is the ‘trip and fall.’ Visitors to your business could trip on the steps coming in to or going out of your office, or a pothole in the driveway or an uneven walkway could be the culprit. An area rug or a wall-to-wall carpet that’s not secure can be responsible for this type of accident as well.

Owners and Renters

Many companies who rent their business space believe that their landlord would be responsible for this type of claim, but that may not be true. If your lease stipulates that you are responsible for clearing the sidewalk, driveway or steps of snow and ice, the responsibility lies with you. Likewise, if you do not notify your landlord of a potential hazard of which you are aware, you could be liable for an ensuing injury.

Other Cold Weather Liabilities

The cold weather can cause other liabilities for business owners as well. If you have employees who are required to work outside during the winter months, you have a responsibility to make sure they are safe when they do so. This means keeping the work area free of hazards that could cause a slip and fall accident. It also means making sure that they are properly dressed for the weather conditions.

Make Sure You Have the Right Liability Protection for your Business

General Liability insurance could cover your costs if someone makes a claim against you for a slip and fall or other accident that causes them bodily injury. Many slip and fall claims are found to be without merit, but there are still costs associated with defending them. The right liability insurance policy will not only cover any settlement or judgment against you, but it will also pay your legal costs, whether you prevail or not.

Protect your customers, visitors and employees from accidents during the winter months by making sure your premises are free of cold-weather hazards. Protect your business by making sure you have adequate business liability insurance just in case.