We live in Southwestern Ontario, and that typically means that we get large amounts of snow .... FAST! Your customers don't stop visiting just because it's snowing, so it's important to ensure that your parking lot, walkways and doorways are clear of ice and snow so that noone slips and hurts themselves.
Here are 5 tips on how to protect your customers from harm and your business from a slip-and-fall lawsuit.
5 Tips for Avoiding Slip-and-Falls
1. Use ice melt or salt immediately
Whatever you do, don't be that business that buys a bag of salt and lets it sit in a hall closet all season long. The key to reducing ice and snow build up is using ice melt or salt early and often once the temperature dips below freezing. It melts ice quickly while keeping it from refreezing, and it won't do damage to your property. Ice melt will also help to soften the built-up ice on Monday morning, after a long weekend of snow!
After it is done the job, remove any salt that is left over. This will minimize harmful runoff and dangers to pets and kids.
2. Create a clear documentation process
Removing the snow and ice from your property is your responsibility. Unfortunately, if you do have a lawsuit brought against you, you will need to prove that you did your due diligence in clearing the space. Keeping clear documentation about the amount of de-ice supply used, when it was applied and the date/time of snow removal will help to protect you and your employees.
Additionally, if there is a slip-and-fall incident, it is extremely important to document it fully. Create a process where employees know what information to collect - it doesn't have to be fancy! Be sure to note the date, time, location and conditions, as well as contact information for the injured individual. Take pictures of the fall location and of the footwear injured party was wearing.
3. Hire a third party for snow removal
There are lots of options in our area for corporate snow removal. Whether you have a large parking lot, or just a few sidewalks, commercial snow removal can be a great option for you. Not only does it take the stress and time of snow removal off of you and your employees, it also puts the liability of a slip-and-fall onto their company. Especially if you are a small business on your own property, this may be a great risk-mitigation option for you.
4. Do not sign a Waiver of Subrogation
Under your insurance contract with your own commercial insurance provider, it will clearly state that you cannot sign a Waiver of Subrogation (WoS). The commercial snow removal company may ask you to sign one when signing their contract. However, a WoS basically means that you agree to taking the onus of responsibility off of the commercial snow removal company, if a slip-and-fall lawsuit were to be brought against your company. However, your insurance company retains the right to Subrogate (collect money for a paid claim) against any party it sees fit. You are not allowed to waive that for them by signing a WoS.
5. Provide employees with safety equipment
Nobody wants to be outside shoveling instead of being inside, keeping warm. However, keeping your property clear is a necessary evil. By providing your employees with a high-visibility jacket, an ergonomic shovel (or at least one that is heavy-duty) and hat and glove set, you can ensure that they will stay safe while outside. It is your responsibility to keep them safe.
What is a Slip-and-Fall?
When a person slips and falls on another person’s property, the victim may be able to file a slip and fall claim. This is an insurance claim or lawsuit that allows the victim to recover damages she or he suffered because of the slip and fall.
You, as the owner of the business, is responsible for ensuring the property is free from known hazardous conditions. Snow and ice is a hazardous condition. You may have a condition in the lease with your property owner (if you do not own it) that states that snow removal is the responsibility of the property owner. The property owners may be liable for neglecting to ensure the property was safe.
However, it is best to remember that all parties have a responsibility to keep the customer safe, and so should do what's necessary to keep the property clear from known hazards.