No matter how careful you are, there’s a chance a slip, trip, or fall will happen on your property. Properly handling the incident the first time will minimize your losses and the chance of a similar issue reoccurring.
1) Be compassionate.
Apply the Golden Rule when interacting with the accident victim. Treat him or her as you’d want to be treated if you slipped on ice or tripped over an uneven tile and sustained an injury.
“Demonstrate compassion and all the things you’d want from a Good Samaritan,” says Brian Gerritsen, senior director of casualty product management/general liability for Fireman’s Fund Insurance Company. “You want the individual to feel like there was some care being shown at your facility. If you do nothing, that leaves a bad taste in their mouth and they might be more likely to pursue a claim or a lawsuit against you.”
Compassion includes helping the injured person obtain medical assistance if necessary. This could range from an ice pack for a knee banged on a hard surface to calling for an ambulance.
“Care for the individual right away,” recommends Beth Milito, senior executive counsel for the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB), an advocacy organization for small and independently owned businesses. “Ask ‘What can I do to help you? Can you get up?’ Offer assistance. Don’t brush it off. You want them to know you’re concerned.”
2) Don’t assign blame.
Blaming the injured person puts them on the defensive and potentially exacerbates the problem. Automatically assuming your organization is at fault without gathering facts can also land you in trouble.
Present the unvarnished facts and let a third party – your insurance carrier or other professionals involved – determine fault.
“No one should take responsibility for any sort of injury or assume liability. Those are talking points that should go out to every manager at the facility,” Gerritsen says.
3) Gather information.
Take a complete statement from the injured party and any witnesses as best you can so you can understand exactly what happened. If you employ security guards, make sure they also understand how to respond to injuries and report the details to you afterward.
“Ensure you’re taking a good inventory of the facts,” says Gerritsen. “If it was an exterior event, record the weather conditions. Was it clear? Was it nighttime? Was it foggy or rainy? Was there an inch of ice on the ground? Those are important aspects in real-time documentation – it’s amazing what you’ll forget the next day.”
4) Call your insurance agent.
A formal claim or lawsuit could raise your insurance premiums higher than simply giving your insurance agent a heads up, so consider calling them for advice.
“The earlier you report a claim, the smaller the average payment is. The average dollar amount gets larger the longer you wait, and the longer you wait, the more likely the other person will be represented by an attorney,” explains Gerritsen. “A lot of business owners think ‘I don’t want to report this because my rates will go up.’ If the incident does result in a claim and it’s been brewing for nine months and an attorney has gotten hold of this individual, producing payment on the claim might be what raises your rates, not the reporting.”
5) Follow up.
Compassion doesn’t always stop when the injured person leaves the accident site, Gerritsen adds. Follow up with the injured person to see how they’re feeling.
“If it’s a minor fall and they seem fine, you probably don’t need to, but if they sought medical treatment, you should follow up,” says Gerritsen. “If they’re comfortable giving you their name and phone number, give them a call, though they might not call you back. Ask your carrier for guidance on next steps to take.”
This also applies with worker’s compensation cases, Milito adds. By law, you can’t dock an employee’s pay for taking sick time to recover from a work-related accident.
Treat employees like you’d treat any customer or vendor who sustained an injury on your premises and check on them after the accident.
“That puts the employee’s mind at ease. You’re showing your human side and letting them know everything will be taken care of,” Milito says.
6) Learn from the experience.
The best way to avoid another claim of the same kind is to eliminate the problem that caused the fall. Larger companies likely have standard operating procedures in place that you can revise or reinforce as necessary.
However, a smaller organization’s practices are generally less formal, Milito says. If this is the case at your property, use this experience to develop guidelines for the future.
“Ask ‘What can we do to ensure this doesn’t happen again?’” recommends Milito. “If no one shoveled the sidewalk after a foot of snow and you opened for business, can someone be in charge of sprinkling the salt?”