Premises Liability

Slips, trips and falls cause thousands of accidents and serious injuries every year. A tragic number of cases end up in permanent injury or death, and the dollar costs associated with these cases can be tremendous. The liability connected with these and other premises issues often fall on the business owner.

These accidents also have an adverse effect on employees. An analysis of losses in the workplace indicates that falls from elevated areas (ladders, stairways, elevated storage areas, etc.) account for the highest severity of injuries and the most deaths. Falls occurring on level surfaces, although generally less severe, constitute the large percentage of recordable injury. Controls you implement to protect the general public will also help to prevent employee accidents.

Falls on Level Surfaces:

The major cause of these falls involves the customer tripping over objects. Customers trip over such items as telephone or electrical cords, floor mounted outlets, defective floor surfaces including broken or cracked tiles, frayed or loose rugs, and plastic carpet covers with curled edges.

The type of floor surface often presents a hazard, which is directly responsible for accidents. Even if a floor defect did not contribute to the accident, claimants often include such unsatisfactory conditions in their negligence claims. It is therefore essential that unsafe floor conditions, such as the following, be corrected promptly:

Floors Exposed to Moisture

In areas where moisture may be blown or tracked in during bad weather, rubber mats provide the best type of protection. Permanently installed mats recessed into the floor are preferable. Next best is a surface mat left in place at all times or at least during inclement weather conditions. The mat should be sufficiently thick and large enough in area so as not to curl or slide easily. They should have beveled edges. Any moisture accumulations should promptly be mopped up and dried by maintenance personnel.

Floor Spills

Clean up should be immediately after maintenance personnel are made aware of the spill. Isolate the spill area by placing cones or barriers around it. Do not allow customers or workers to enter the area until the floor has dried completely.

Aisle Space

Aisles should be cleared, and materials should not be stored in walking/working areas. All areas should be adequately lighted. Frequent inspection of aisle ways and lighting should also be included in the facility inspection activities.

Inherently Slippery Floors

These include highly polished, but unwaxed, marble and terrazzo floors. The hazard can be reduced by covering paths of travel with suitable non-slip material such as carpet or rubber matting. There are also terrazzos made with non-slip material added to them.

Improperly Finished Floors

It is rare for a retail establishment to actually use wax on its floors. Today’s floor surfaces are generally treated with a variety of floor finishes. Most of these products are not designed to be buffed. Buffing, especially high-speed buffing, can turn a floor covering with a safe floor finish into a very dangerous, slippery floor. Application and removal of all floor finishes should be done strictly in accordance with manufacturer’s instructions.

 Tears and Folds

When carpets or rugs are torn or folded over, prompt action should be taken to have the tears repaired and folded or wrinkled sections smoothed or stretched out.

Outdoor Walking Surfaces

Sidewalks, curbs and parking lots also present many trip and fall hazards. Inspect these areas continually for holes, uneven surfaces and broken pavement. It is recommended that you paint curb facings a bright color to highlight the “step-up”. A comprehensive snow removal program is essential in areas of the country where it is necessary.

Falls from Elevated Surfaces

The most severe type of falls occur from one level to another. Falls from chairs, stairs, ladders, elevators or other raised surfaces can cause severe injuries and, in some cases, death. According to information gathered by the Consumer Product Safety Commission and the National Bureau of Standards, there are approximately five million stair fall cases per year. Stairs place an unusual burden on people, different than walking on level surfaces. Here are some major areas of concern along with corrective action:

Treads and Handrails

Treads and handrails should be highlighted so that they are immediately and easily distinguished from the riser and adjacent wall surfaces. Adequate lighting is essential. If one side of a stairwell is open to an adjoining space, it is a good idea to close off the view to prevent distraction that may result in falls.

Step or Tread

The edge of a step or tread should be easy to see. If possible, use carpeting to contrast between the approach to the step and the stairs. Uncarpeted stairs should be edge marked. Consider posting “Caution – Step Down” signs where appropriate.


A continuous handrail must be provided. The railing should preferably be lighter in color because people seem to be more inclined to use lighter-colored railing than a dark one that looks dirty and greasy. The handrail should extend to the top and bottom of the staircase, so that it can be grasped before stepping on the step or leaving the last step.

Stair Tread

The stair tread should have good traction and be stable. Worn or defective treads or other parts should be replaced immediately.


Stairs should be cleared of all obstructions. Sharp ends of handrails and guard rails should be removed or covered to prevent injury.

Other Concerns:

Hot Drinks

Move all coffee pots and other hot drinks out of the reach of small children.

Play Areas and Toys

Don’t provide dangerous toys for young children. Nothing small enough for a child to swallow or anything inherently dangerous should be placed in customer waiting areas. Inspect these areas regularly to ensure that toys, furniture and equipment are in good condition. Chair collapse has resulted in premises liability claims. Look closely at electrical outlets and install “child safety plugs” in empty outlets to reduce the shock hazard and to prevent children from sticking anything inside of them. If a playground or similar equipment is provided, ensure that it meets the Consumer Product Safety Commission’s recommended guidelines for playground safety – see the Handbook for Public Playground Safety (available on the CPSC website at http://www.cpsc.gov/CPSCPUB/ PUBS/325.pdf).

Onsite Traffic Patterns

Mark pedestrian walkways on the parking lot surface to identify safe walking paths for customers. Traffic flow in and out of your repair facilities should avoid areas where pedestrians commonly travel. Install speed bumps, “caution” and “stop” signs where appropriate to help control traffic.

Display Stands

Large, heavy items (tires, wheels, auto parts, etc.) are often displayed on tall, free-standing racks or shelves. Unless sufficiently stable or secured to a wall, these stands (and the items on display) can fall over on small children or adults and cause substantial injuries. Wall-mounted TV stands offer a similar exposure. Be sure to follow the manufacturer’s installation instructions closely – these stands should be fastened securely to the wall studs, not drywall.

Overhead doors - Make sure the area is clear before closing overhead doors. Someone walking through the area can be struck in the head as the door is closing.

Golf Carts

Thoroughly train employees on the safe and proper operation of golf carts. Customers have been thrown out of golf carts during wild turning maneuvers, sudden take-offs and stops. Set “governors” on the golf carts to prevent excessive speeds. All occupants should remain seated and hold on to cart while it’s in motion and always set the parking brake when unattended. Customers, nor their children, should ever be allowed to operate golf carts.


Periodic inspection tailored to the needs of the facility can help reduce the number of falls and premises liability incidents. The inspection should be performed by individuals trained in hazard recognition. Identified hazards should be immediately corrected to reduce exposure to customers, visitors and employees. Management follow-up is a necessity, as it is important to ensure that discrepancies are corrected in a timely manner.

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