How to seek compensation after a slip and fall or other injury on business property. You’re entitled to a fair payout for your injuries and distress.
Customer slip and falls, and other customer injuries are among the top ten insurance claims for small businesses, with average payouts up to $30,000 per claim.¹
The law requires business owners to do everything reasonably possible to make their properties safe. They must take adequate safety measures to protect visitors from avoidable harm.
People get injured on business property all the time. When you’ve been injured on a business property, you have a right to expect to be compensated by the at-fault business owner.
However, business owners are not automatically on the hook for injuries that happen on the property. You’ll need to know how to demand compensation, and how to build a strong injury claim to maximize your payout.
Business Owner Safety Responsibilities
Business owners are obligated to keep their property safe for customers and employees. Regular maintenance of the building and fixtures is important. Businesses must also look for and immediately correct hazardous conditions such as:
Wet Floors: Spills and drips should be cleaned. Safety mats can be used at entrances during wet weather. Slick areas should be marked with “wet floor” signs.
Sidewalks: Snow and ice should be cleared off in a reasonable amount of time, with appropriate salt, sand or other treatments to prevent falls. Walkways should be kept in good repair to avoid uneven surfaces, cracks, or holes.
Parking Lots: Parking areas and travel lanes should be marked. The parking lot surface should be maintained to avoid cracks and potholes. Safety lighting is recommended. As needed, snow and ice should be removed.
Physical Obstacles: Avoid loose cords, sharp edges on racks and shelves, improperly stacked merchandise, or other potentially harmful objects.
Doors: Doors should allow easy customer movement in and out of the business, including customers with assistive devices like wheelchairs, walkers, or strollers. Doors, including refrigerator and freezer doors, should be as safe as possible to avoid hand and face injuries.
If you’re injured on a property where you work, learn how to Protect Your Rights and Increase Your Worker’s Comp Payout.
Common Injuries on Business Properties
There are many types of injuries associated with business properties. Among the most common are:
- Slip and falls on slippery hard surfaces
- Elevator and escalator injuries
- Shopping cart injuries
- Head and neck injuries from falling merchandise or inventory
- Cuts, abrasions, and lacerations caused by sharp objects like showcases or counters
- Door injuries like faulty doors that slam on a customer’s face or hands
- Overcrowding resulting in customers trampling and shoving
- Parking lot injuries from ice, snow, rain, oil, and other slippery substances
- Assaults in parking lots and other areas
- Poisoning from food or drink
- Puncture wounds from pins, sharp objects, shopping carts, etc.
To protect themselves from the high cost of these accident-injuries, owners carry property liability insurance, also called premises liability insurance.
It’s up to each owner to decide how much insurance to buy. The higher the policy limit, the higher the insurance premium. A small business property may carry much lower limits than a mega-chain store. When the business owner’s insurance policy doesn’t have enough coverage to pay for your injuries, the business owner often must pay the difference.
Don’t be tricked into giving up your rights to pursue further compensation. If the business owner’s policy limits aren’t enough to cover your damages, contact a personal injury attorney before signing a settlement agreement.
Some business property owners have no choice when it comes to their policy limits. When a business borrows money from a bank or other lending institution, the lender will often require the owner to carry liability insurance with limits high enough to cover the loan amount.
Filing a Business Insurance Claim
While liability insurance does provide business owners protection from injury claims and lawsuits, insurance companies won’t automatically cut a check when someone is injured.
Before the insurance company accepts your injury claim, you’ll have to explain why you were on the property and prove the business owner is to blame for your injuries.
It helps to know some terms used by insurance companies:
Duty of Care means the obligation to be careful and avoid causing harm to others.
Negligence happens when a someone fails to act responsibly or does something no reasonable person would do. For example, failing to maintain safe food temperatures in a restaurant.
Liability simply means responsibility. The at-fault person is usually liable for the injured victim’s damages.
Damages for accident victims can include medical costs, the cost of ruined clothing or other personal items, out-of-pocket medical expenses, lost wages, and pain and suffering.
Direct and Proximate Cause is the immediate reason something happened that caused harm to another person. For example, the wet floor in the produce aisle caused your broken arm when you slipped and fell.
Why You Were There Makes a Difference
Do you have an invitation? That may sound silly, but in legal jargon, it means you had a valid reason to visit the business.
Express invitations are in the form of personal invitations to special events, or through advertising on radio, television, billboards, signs on buses, park benches, and other forms of advertising.
Implied invitations are people who walk in off the street, find the business through the internet, repeat customers, and others who generally know about the business and know they’re welcome to come onto the property for such things as eating, shopping, doctors’ appointments, etc.
Business property liability insurance will generally only pay claims for two classes of visitors:
Invitees are people the business has given an express or implied invitation to. An invitee is a visitor allowed on the property to conduct business.
Invitees are customers at a restaurant, hair salon, shopping mall, or another establishment where there’s a legitimate business. Invitees can also be contractors and subcontractors on the property to make repairs. So long as you’re on the property for business purposes, you’re are an invitee.
Licensees are people who have invitations, or believe they do, onto the business owner’s property, but not for business purposes. In this situation, license means permission. Licensees are social guests, friends, children, and others the owner invites for non-business purposes. If your child steps on broken glass in a wine shop, the child was there as a licensee.
Insurance companies will typically deny injury claims made by a person who was not authorized to be on the property.
Trespassers are people who enter a business property without a lawful express or implied invitation. Trespassers have no legitimate business or personal reason to be on the property and intentionally enter the property anyway. Once a business owner knows a trespasser is on the property, the owner should take reasonable steps to get the trespasser off the property.
Although the law varies from state to state, if a business owner knows there’s a dangerous condition on the property and takes no action to get rid of the trespasser, the property owner may have to take legal responsibility for the trespasser’s injuries.
Although it’s unlikely a trespasser will win in court, if an injured trespasser files a lawsuit, the insurance company will pay for the business owner’s legal defense.
Proving the Business Is to Blame
Even if you had a valid reason for visiting the property, you still have to prove the business was to blame for the circumstances that led to your injury.
Usually, that means proving the business was negligent. To meet a legal standard for proving negligence, you’ll have to show:
- The business owner or manager knew a dangerous condition existed or could exist.
- The owner or manager had a reasonable amount of time to repair the danger but failed to do so.
- The dangerous condition was the direct and proximate cause of your injuries.
- You didn’t know the condition existed or couldn’t avoid it.
- Your reckless conduct didn’t contribute to the circumstances that caused your injury.
- You didn’t agree to assume the risk of injury.
Evidence Makes a Strong Injury Claim
Building a strong claim starts the moment you’re injured. Knowing what to do, and the mistakes to avoid will give you the evidence you need to:
- Prove the business was negligent
- Prove the severity of your injuries
Immediate Medical Care: When you’re injured on a business property, call for help. Ask for the owner or a manager. If you’re not sure how badly you’re hurt, call 911. Don’t blame your fall on clumsiness or make light of your symptoms. If you hit your head, you must be checked for a concussion.
If you aren’t taken directly to the hospital, have a medical evaluation as soon as possible. Refusing medical care at the scene, or delaying treatment will seriously undermine your claim. The insurance company won’t hesitate to say your injuries aren’t that bad or didn’t happen at the business.
Incident Reports: Ask the owner or manager to write a report, often called an incident report, and request a copy. The manager may not have the authority to release the report to you. If necessary, your attorney can subpoena the business owner’s records of the accident.
Witness Statements: Look for witnesses. Ask them for their names and contact information. Confirm what they saw, especially if they saw what caused your injury. If they agree to help, ask them to write down what they saw and then sign the written statement.
Photographs: Using your cell phone, take photos or video of the area where you were injured. Focus on what caused your injury. Photos of water on the floor, merchandise that fell on you, or other dangerous conditions contributing to your injury are very important.
Insurance Information: Ask the business owner or manager for the name of their insurance company. You may be told someone from the company will contact you. That’s fine. Provide your full name and contact information.
Maximizing Your Injury Compensation
You generally won’t need an attorney for soft tissue injuries like cuts, bruises, abrasions, contusions, sprained muscles, minor burns, and other minor injuries. If you’ve fully recovered, you can negotiate your settlement directly with the insurance company.
Your compensation amount is based on the totaled cost of your medical bills, out-of-pocket expenses, the value of ruined personal items, and lost wages. Add one or two times that amount for pain and suffering.
Send your demand letter with copies of all your bills, medical records, receipts, and photographs.
We’ve made it easy to look like a pro with a sample Personal Injury Demand Letter.
When you’ve been severely injured, you’re better off hiring a skilled personal injury attorney to handle the claim for you. Traumatic brain injuries, spinal cord injuries, severe burns, or any other “hard” injuries that have long-term or permanent effects are high-dollar claims.
Insurance companies are notorious for offering lower settlements to claimants who don’t have an attorney. The adjuster knows when they make their “final offer,” you won’t have the energy or legal skills to fight for more.
The bigger the business, the more likely you’ll be up against ruthless corporate lawyers, in addition to the insurance company. Their only goal is limiting or eliminating any compensation owed to you.
Depending on your state’s laws, the insurance company will try to use comparative fault rules against you. Comparative fault means you shared some of the blame for what happened, giving the insurance company an excuse to cut or deny your potential compensation.
Don’t settle for less. Talk to an attorney about challenging the insurance company’s determination of fault.
Discuss your case with a personal injury attorney for:
- Severe physical or psychological injuries
- Wrongful death of a family member
- Injuries involving product liability in addition to the business owner’s negligence
- Concerns about dealing with the insurance company
You don’t have to fight negligent business owners on your own. There’s no obligation, and it costs nothing to consult with an experienced personal injury attorney. Get the compensation you deserve.
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