Avoiding "slip and fall" claims

January 13, 2011

The Center for Disease Control estimates that in the year 2000, slip and fall incidents resulted in injuries totaling $19 billion for adults 65 and older, and this number is expected to rise to $55 billion by 2020. In addition, the average health care cost for an adult 72 years and older suffering from a slip and fall related injury is $19, 440. Costs may include anything from hospital and nursing care, doctors and professional services, rehabilitation, prescription drugs, and changes made to the home to accommodate an injured adult.

On July 26, 2010, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court struck down the "natural accumulation" rule, which previously allowed property owners to claim that they were not liable for injuries resulting from natural accumulation of snow and ice. Juries will no longer have to decide whether or not a slip and fall accident was a result of natural accumulation. Instead, they will have to decide if the property owner acted reasonably in maintaining the property premises. Determining what is reasonable will depend on “…the amount of foot traffic to be anticipated on the property, the magnitude of the risk reasonably feared, and the burden and expense of snow and ice removal.”

With this change in ruling, it is important to keep in mind ways to keep your property safe and ways in which you can avoid slip and fall claims. Here are some tips:

1. Promptly remove snow and ice when it accumulates, and use slip resistant mats in heavy traffic areas.

2. Stay up-to-date with the weather and be prepared to remove snow and ice when inclement weather is expected.

3. Make sure your property has effective drainage in areas like walkways, stairs, and other heavy traffic areas.

4. Use caution signs to alert patrons of high risk areas.

5. Place sand or salt dispensers near areas of high traffic.

6. Perform regular maintenance of parking, walkways, and all other facilities, so as to ensure that your property is not defective.

7. Regularly maintain snow and ice removal equipment to ensure that it is functioning properly.

8. Ensure that you have adequate lighting in areas where foot traffic is anticipated.

9. Safely clear your roof of snow if your roof nears its load capacity.

10. If contracting out a third party for snow removal, ensure that you structure contracts with appropriate indemnity and hold harmless agreements to minimize exposure to loss due to the contractor's employees or actions. Remember to obtain a copy of the contractor's certificate of insurance to ensure that the contractor has adequate coverage in case of a claim.

Don't let a slip and fall claim hurt your business operations. Call us to ensure that you are adequately covered. Should you need to report a claim, check our website or call at 508-540-2400.