You probably already know that if a person slips and falls at your business, you’re a prime target for a lawsuit. At the very least, you’ve probably seen the personal injury lawyer advertisements on daytime television that promise to hold businesses accountable for their negligence and get injured parties the money they deserve.

As an attorney, I’m familiar with these slip-and-fall cases. While they’re certainly the best-known instances of premises liability, they’re hardly the only ones. As a business owner, your responsibility for others’ injuries is far-reaching, covering everyone from employees to visitors to your next-door neighbor.

I’ve come across too many people who know it’s important to keep their employees and customers safe but aren’t aware of the full extent of their culpability. A better understanding of premises liability can not only reveal ways to improve workplace safety, but it can also help you avoid becoming the next case study for a personal injury ad.

Premises Liability 101

Regardless of whether you rent or own the building your business is located in, you’re responsible for whoever steps inside — from employees and customers to vendors and solicitors. Even trespassers have limited protection under premises liability law.

While your landlord may be sued for negligence in some instances, you will almost always shoulder the primary burden. In fact, most landlords include clauses in rental agreements that require tenants to assume full responsibility when it comes to maintaining the safety of the property. That means that if your landlord is sued, your business is on the hook for the incurred expenses.

 Slip-and-fall incidents are just the tip of the iceberg. Many different scenarios fall under the umbrella of premises liability, including a visitor or an employee assaulting another visitor, a piece of equipment or merchandise injuring someone, or hazardous substances running off your property and onto a neighboring property. Basically, if you could have taken steps to prevent an injury or damage from occurring, you’re going to be held accountable by an attorney like myself.
On top of that, if you decide to fight a premises liability suit, your business will be affected in more ways than one. While most commercial general liability insurance policies will cover many of the expenses of a premises liability lawsuit, lawyers’ fees alone can be exorbitantly expensive. And no insurance policy will be able to repair the damage to your business’s reputation.

How to Keep Everyone Safe (and Avoid Lawsuits)

Unfortunately, accidents will always happen, and lawsuits will always be filed. At a minimum, consider buying a basic commercial general liability insurance policy. For as little as $500, a standard policy will cover up to $1 million. In the long run, it could end up saving you tens of thousands of dollars.

After you get insurance, here are some best practices to prevent most workplace injuries and expensive liability claims:

    1. Inspect. You and your employees need to diligently monitor potentially unsafe conditions — in both individual workspaces and the property at large. Constant vigilance might sound like a productivity killer, but all it really means is being more aware of your surroundings. This way, any potential liabilities can be detected before employees or customers discover them the hard way.
    2. Correct. If an unsafe condition is discovered (or even suspected), it must be corrected immediately. Neither you nor your employees should assume that someone else will clean up the spill, flatten the entryway mat, or clear ice and snow off the walkway. Establish clear policies and procedures so your employees know what to do when it comes to dangerous conditions.
    3. Warn. If any unsafe conditions can’t be corrected immediately, you need to display a conspicuous warning sign so customers and employees can avoid the hazard until it’s fixed. The prominent use of “wet floor” signs in areas that have been mopped during business hours is a good example of a prudent warning.

When it comes to premises liability, the bottom line is this: If it’s your business, it’s your responsibility. Stay alert for potential dangers, and correct problems as soon as they crop up. That will hopefully be enough to keep you out of court.

DISCLOSURE: This material is provided for general and educational purposes only and is not intended to provide legal advice or to avoid penalties that may be imposed by U.S. law. Contact your attorney or other advisor regarding your specific situation.