How Do You Know If A Business Acted Reasonably?
When you are injured at your job, then you may have coverage through your employer’s workers’ compensation insurance. Worker’s Compensation insurance provides the injured worker with limited benefits for medical expenses and loss of wages, regardless of fault. For example, if you slip and fall at your place of employment while you are working, medical benefits and lost wages, pursuant to a formula, will be paid to the employee.
However, whether or not a slip and fall accident will be covered by the business’ LIABILITY insurance will depend upon whether or not the company is legally liable for what has happened to the injured person. Normally, an employee covered by workers’ compensation, is not entitled to sue the employer for negligence.
If a non-employee of the company slips and falls at your employer’s place of employment, that person is not entitled to receive workers’ compensation benefits but may sue the employer for negligence. When is a business establishment negligent and how is it determined? A business is negligent if failed to act in a reasonable manner. Negligence can occur when a business does some act that a reasonably careful business would not do under similar circumstances or in not do something that a reasonably careful business would do under similar circumstances.
Insurance companies and industry researchers study these office/premises slip and fall incidents with the goal of trying to assess the risk of injury and advise businesses on what reasonable steps should be taken in order to avoid worker and customer slip and fall injuries. Risk manuals provided by Travelers Insurance to its policyholders as well as this advisory article in Safety and Health Magazine, a publication of the National Safety Council provide reasonable measures that businesses should take in order to minimize the chance of injuries.
Using their compilations as a guide, here are some issues and questions for you to consider as you evaluate what has happened in an office slip and fall accident:
1. Chairs Provided by the Company or Business
Chair safety is important and there are certain manufacturers that specialize in making chairs for use in industrial or business environments. They are designed for commercial use and while they may be elegantly designed, they have a different structure and make-up than many chairs that are available for sale for residential purposes.
If a chair was involved in your slip-and-fall accident, then you may want to investigate things involving chair safety issues.
- Was the chair secure with five pedestals? Five pedestal chairs are less likely to tip or turn over.
- What about the casters on that chair?
- Did it have casters?
- Are these the proper kind of caster for this chair?
- Have these casters been removed or replaced?
- Are they worn down?
- Were they secure on the foot of the chair?
- What about the footing for that chair, was it on carpeting, a loose rug, or a tile or wood floor? Different casters are designed to work best on different kinds of flooring.
- Was the chair’s caster made to deal with a slippery tile floor or with a thick tapestry rug?
- What about the base of the chair, what does it measure? Office chairs, to be safe, should be at least 20 inches in diameter.
- What was the diameter of the chair that was involved in your slip and fall accident?
- Did the staff get any instructions on how to use the chair? Some chairs, like executive chairs that rise and lower or specialty chairs made to lessen back pain or shoulder strain are made to move with levers into different positions.
- Was the chair involved in your fall one of these types of chairs? If so, was it working properly? And were you instructed on how to use its devices properly?
Office Slip and Fall Accidents at the Same Level
Falls happen in two ways: on one level, or from a higher spot to a lower one. Many office slip and fall accidents happen on a single level (while construction accidents, for example, are often at a different level as a worker falls from a ladder or scaffold.)
Where you were when the slip and fall accident happened in your office is important. Think about where you were and what was happening at the time, as well as where things were located around you immediately before you were hurt. Issues in a same-level office slip and fall can include:
- Objects that are inviting someone to trip and fall over them. Think about where the trash basket was located in your office, as well as any stacks of files, or file boxes, or other items. Were they positioned out of your footpath or in a spot where someone might trip over them?
- Trash baskets, for example, should be kept under desks, in corners, or otherwise out of the line of traffic. Did someone empty that trash basket and fail to return it to its proper location?
- What about the tables, desks, file cabinets, and office equipment (printers, printer stands, copiers, etc.) — where are they located?
- Are they positioned so it is easy to maneuver around them?
- Are they against walls, or are there partitions to help the flow of foot traffic?
- Do you find yourself having to squeeze by the printer stand? Did this contribute to your fall?
- Is it business policy in your office to keep things tidy during the day?
- Are there rules about keeping trash baskets out of the way and file cabinet drawers shut, and overhead cabinet doors closed?
- Do employees obey these rules?
- What about electrical cords and power cords to computers, phones, and other equipment. How are they organized?
- Are computer and phone cords loose on the floor or are they gathered in clips and contained behind desks?
- Is it a hazard to have to walk down the hall or through the office because of loose equipment and electrical cords on the floor?
- What about extension cords – are they used? Why? How are they taped or otherwise held down (rubber channels, etc.) to protect against someone tripping over them?
- What about electrical outlets, where are they? Are they easy to locate and use, or are they in strange spots in the wall or floor?
- Are they placed in a way that invites a tripping hazard as equipment and machines are plugged into these outlets?
What about storing necessities and office materials? Where is this done?
- Is there a storage room? Are there enough storage cabinets and drawers for employees to use?
- If not, are workers forced to store file boxes, folders, books, inventory, etc., in halls or around desks, and around conference tables?
- Does this invite someone to trip and fall or slip and fall as a hazard?
- What about the filing system? Are file boxes used?
- Where are they kept? If a file box is being used in the course of the workday, where is it placed?
- What about the box top? Boxes in hallways can cause a trip and fall. A loose cardboard box top can result in a serious slip and fall injury.
Things happen, and in every office, there is going to be the periodic cup of spilled coffee or the tipped-over glass of soda. When that happens, what is the office procedure?
- Has there been any rule established for these spills?
- Have employees been formally instructed on steps to take when something is spilled?
- Are there signs available to mark a wet floor (”Caution – Wet Floor”)?
- Are employees told where mops can be found or wipes to clean up the spill?
- Is there staff assigned to do these chores? What are their instructions?
Office Floor Hazards
- How often is the office floor cleaned or vacuumed? Who does this?
- What about things like paper clips or rubber bands and other small office items that might cause someone (especially a woman wearing high heels) to lose her footing and fall — are these promptly picked up or are they left there as a hazard for days at a time?
- What about the flooring at office entrances and exits, is it made to protect against the elements? Entries need to have protection against puddles caused by rain, for instance. If the flooring is tile or wood, then protective rugs or slip-resistant material needs to be placed here. Additionally, any traffic paths where workers may carry rainwater into the work area need to be protected, as well. If the lobby has a marble floor, it may look beautiful but wet marble is inviting a serious fall accident and the company should protect workers with rugs, carpeting, etc. Here.
Sometimes, workers simply run into each other during a busy day and a fall accident results. Collisions in a hallway do happen, which is why the National Safety Council supports offices having convex mirrors (those big, round mirrors that are installed up in the corners) at hallway intersections — particularly in areas where there is a lot of foot traffic and where workers may well be walking while carrying files, computers, books, etc.
- If your fall was the result of a collision, were you able to see where you were going at the time of the accident?
- What about the person with whom you collided: were you in his or her blind spot?
Falls from a Higher Level
There are times when an office slip and fall is the result of someone falling from a higher level to a lower one. These usually result in more serious injuries than those where the fall is on the same level.
- If employees need to use a ladder (say a step-ladder) during the course of a day, who provided it and was it checked to make sure it was the proper kind of ladder for this intended use?
- What about the ladder’s feet – do they have any kind of slip-resistant material on them?
- Are there brakes or other devices on the ladder that keep it secure and steady as someone climbs its steps? Were they working properly?
- Is there a warning on the ladder about not going past the highest safe stepping level (the safety step)?
- Was the ladder placed on level ground before the accident victim climbed onto the ladder?
- Was the ladder fully opened before the person stepped onto it?
- If the fall happened because someone tried to climb up on a desk or conference table to reach something, then was that something reasonable to think might happen in the office? Were employees instructed on how this could be dangerous?
- Were there any policies or procedures that warned workers NOT to climb on desks or tables, etc.?
- What about someone using an office chair to reach for something — climbing on a chair is a common office slip and fall scenario. This is an especially serious danger when someone tries to stand on a rolling desk chair to get something out of reach, and thinks it won’t be a problem. Those wheels can easily move and a serious fall will result.
Worker Education and Training Manuals
Companies should prepare their employees not only for their specific work assignments but also for their work environment. Failure to educate and train employees and staff in workplace safety can result in serious liability for the business if a slip and fall accident happens on their premises.
- Does the company have training in place for its cleaning crew?
- Does it hire a third-party company to take care of cleaning the office space?
- How was this company vetted?
- What training is provided to employees on maintaining a safe environment during the day?
- Are workers instructed, for example, not to leave lower-level filing cabinet drawers open because this is a fall hazard?
- Are employees trained on what to do if they need to get something out of reach, including where a stepladder can be located and how it is to be properly used?
Do You Have an Accident Damages Claim For an Office Slip and Fall?
If you work in an office environment here in Florida and were hurt on the job in a slip-and-fall accident, then you may need to determine if the business or company that is responsible for the office is liable for what has happened to you.
Under Florida premises liability law, that business may be responsible for covering damages that have been the result of your accident, including not only your medical costs but your lost wages due to an inability to work, etc. An experienced Florida personal injury lawyer can be very helpful here, especially since our premises liability statute places a rather unique burden of proof on the accident victim.
A good piece of advice if you or a loved one has been injured in an office slip and fall, is to at least speak with an experienced personal injury lawyer to learn about some of the issues that can arise with these claims, including the type of evidence needed to prove a claim and the type and amount of damages you can recover. Most personal injury lawyers, like Alan Sackrin, will offer a free initial consultation (over the phone or in person, whichever you prefer) to answer your questions.
Do you have questions or comments? Then please feel free to send Alan an email or call him now at (954) 458-8655.