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How should owners deal with unavoidable insurance issues?

October 11, 2010
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Summary: In this installment, Professional Carwashing & Detailing asked Scott Brothers, the president and CEO of Joplin, MO-based The Insurancenter, to answer an anonymous wash owner’s question regarding dealing with unavoidable insurance issues at a wash.

Question: How should a wash owner respond to the insurance problems that can occur at a carwash, such as slips and falls, or damage and injury claims?

Scott Brothers: Many slip and fall accidents can turn into Workers’ Compensation claims or public liability suits.

While many of these cases are settled out of court, others go before a judge and jury. In either case, it can be a costly, time consuming and painful process.

What may seem unavoidable can often times be prevented. However, it’s still impossible to eliminate all the risks.

Not all bad news
There is no reason for a wash owner to be an easy target by waiting for someone to suffer a slip-and-fall accident. Start by identifying potential problem areas in and around the wash that could be hazardous.

Do a little management-by-walking-around — take a tour to find trouble spots before they find you. Some of the more common causes of slip and fall accidents include:

  • Wet areas;
  • Oil/grease spills;
  • Uneven surfaces;
  • Improper floor surfaces;
  • Obstacles cluttering or blocking hallways;
  • Hidden steps;
  • Entrances where rain, snow or sleet may be tracked in; and
  • Areas where the floor surface changes levels.

Act, don’t react
Once you’ve identified these high-risk spots, examine their conditions and your options. Determine whether a repair or replacement is necessary and if employees should be alerted.

The floor covering or its condition should not put employees or the members of the public at risk. Some precautionary options include:

  • Posting “Caution – Wet Floor” signs
  • Insisting your employees wear specific shoes for specific floor surfaces
  • Installing specially designed slip-resistant safety flooring (There are glue-on safety strips and surface-texturing treatments, but these should usually be considered temporary solutions.)
  • Walk-off mats placed at entrances where foot traffic may come from wet areas.

Periodic inspections, routine housekeeping and the prompt repair of damaged floors are necessary in reducing slip-and-fall accidents.

Spot hazards in advance
Hazards are easy to see — if you’re paying attention. Keeping walkways, stairs and aisles clear of obstacles and clutter can reduce the chances of incidences.

Waste should always be disposed of promptly and all materials should be stacked neatly with cabinet doors and drawers securely closed.

Review your procedures for inspecting, maintaining and cleaning your floors with employees. Such procedures should be in writing and strictly followed.

As harsh as it sounds, treating the floor has become less costly than treating injuries.

Still not enough
Even after an owner has done everything to ensure a safe environment he or she may still be faced with injury claims. What then?

First, the injured party must prove that the accident was the property owner’s fault. This includes proving the owner knew or should have known about the hazard that caused the accident.

An owner’s best weapon is being prepared. A well-maintained floor and proper documentation as to its care are key to minimizing slip-and-fall accidents and the potential for liability if an accident should occur.

Generally speaking, an owner may be found liable for the slips and falls where the claimant can prove the following:

  • Faulty and/or unsafe floor construction;
  • Unsafe lighting where the accident occurred;
  • Failure to adequately warn of dangerous conditions;
  • Failure to properly inspect and maintain floors; and
  • Use of a slippery and hazardous floor finish.

After a wash owner starts a hazard reporting system, they need to have a strong follow-up procedure that immediately triggers corrective action.

Knowing a problem exists and not doing something about it quickly and effectively is more damaging to an owner’s case than not knowing about the problem in the first place.

Due diligence
Should an accident occur, an owner can help reduce the financial impact of the incident by getting all the facts immediately.

Consider every incident (even near misses) an opportunity to improve the safety of the premises by fixing the hazardous area quickly and effectively.

Review procedures for inspecting and maintaining the premises and document your efforts on a consistent basis — every time repairs are made or prevention procedures are taken write it down.

If owners do their due diligence now they can significantly reduce the anguish of slip-and-fall accidents and protect employees and the public as well as help avoid lawsuits and Workers’ Compensation claims.

Scott Brothers is the president and CEO of Joplin, MO-based The Insurancenter. Since 1986, The Insurancenter has been insuring the car-care industry and is the leading writer of insurance for the industry nationwide.