So I was trying to come up with an idea for this month’s blog and I did what any 21st century man does; I surfed the Internet. I entered “trip & fall claims” and got over 80 million hits! There were ads on how to know if you have a valid claim, tutorials on what you must prove to win a slip and fall injury claim, “How to..” blogs on filing your claim, whether most claims settle out of court and how long it will take after filing to get your money. There were warnings of time limits on filing and others listing which states have the biggest awards. If you want to know how much you can sue for a knee injury, there’s a site for that. If you slip and fall in a casino, have no fear, the Internet’s here. You can even click on a slip and fall settlement calculator to estimate your final payout. There were a few blogs on how to prevent trip and fall accidents, but by far the dominant theme was how to sue someone quickly and effectively. Needless to say most of this was on websites operated by personal injury law firms.
The message is loud and clear: it’s easy to sue and not too hard to win. True, an injured person has to prove someone was negligent in causing their injury, but that isn’t too hard. Business owners have a higher degree of responsibility when it comes to the public. Suppose you’re building a spec home and the realtor brings a prospect onto the site some fine Sunday. You have an arrangement with this particular realtor who happens to be a top closer in your area, so you tell her to “just be careful and don’t forget to lock up when you leave.” You have no idea the framing crew have not completed installation of the basement steps; that the stairs are being held in place by two finish nails; that no one thought to block the stair way or put up a sign. The realtor is a petit woman who makes it a third of the way down before her prospect, a man over six feet and about 220, starts down too.
When the dust settles, literally, the realtor and her prospect are both seriously injured.* You are sued for failing to warn the public of a very dangerous hazard. You’re the GC. You are responsible for worksite safety, so there’s no getting out of this. Sure, your framer is responsible too, but you hired him. Now, consider all the information on the Internet. As an old saying goes, it’s hard not to feel paranoid when the whole world is out to get you.
How could this have been avoided?
- Do you hold periodic safety meetings?
- Are all your subs required to attend?
- Would a sign saying "Warning! Stairway Closed!" have prevented this accident?
(*This was an actual claim.)