Jaw-dropping settlements ‘becoming the norm’ in retail slip and fall claims

Most cases are resulting in legal representation and policy limit demands, says expert

Jaw-dropping settlements ‘becoming the norm’ in retail slip and fall claims

Insurance News

By Bethan Moorcraft

Jurors in Leon County, Florida, recently awarded nearly $2 million to Stephanie Jenkins, aged 47, who suffered serious injuries after slipping and falling inside a USA Grocers in Tallahassee. The incident happened in December 2016, when Jenkins went into the convenience store to buy soda and slipped on a puddle of water that had collected around a bucket of beer and ice. According to a report in the Tallahassee Democrat, jurors found USA Grocers 100% liable after a four-day trial, awarding Jenkins more than $1.93 million for past and future medical expenses, pain and suffering.

While $1.93 million might seem like a jaw-dropping amount for a slip and fall case, it’s actually nothing out of the ordinary. According to Rooney Gleason, president of Argo Insurance – Grocery and Retail, and head of US Digital Business Development, it’s “becoming the norm” for simple slip and falls to result in legal representation and insurance policy limit demands.

He told Insurance Business: “We’ve seen a shift to where plaintiff’s attorneys are immediately demanding very high amounts of money. Even minor slips and falls – for example, someone falls and bruises their hip but has no need for surgery or extensive medical treatment – are resulting in representation with significant demands. In this entitlement world that we live in, particularly in the US, everybody thinks they’re entitled to a big pay day any time there’s any sort of accident in someone’s retail practice. But that’s just not the case – that’s not what the law says. You really have to suffer economic damage, or damage to your person or your wellbeing.”

To help retail clients manage their risks in this highly litigious environment, Gleason launched Argo Risk Tech, a custom-tailored app to help clients reduce the frequency and severity of customer and employee accidents. The solution includes a premises inspection tool called ART-iWalk, which uses electronic location markers and smartphones or tablets to search for floor hazards, noting debris and/or spills, and logging clean-up activities. These court-tested inspections help Argo’s retail clients to prevent slip and fall claims on their premises.

“We’ve turned to electronics and Internet of Things (IoT) technology to try and handle this risk and collect really strong data around safety inspections,” said Gleason. “Even if a client does miss something on the floor and a customer slips and falls, we’re able to mitigate the cost of that claim because our clients are doing so much more in terms of risk mitigation than an average retailer would do. It’s all about developing a culture of safety among employees and then providing them with the right tools to get to the heart of the issue of slips and falls.”

There are lots of simple actions restaurants and grocers can take to prevent slips and falls on their premises. Common sense measures like clear caution signs, tips for customers and dry mats (which are regularly changed) can make a lot of difference. Regular premises inspections are also essential, as Gleason explained: “Having a process that’s followed to get your employees out and around the sales floor to identify hazards, notate those hazards and remove them is really a best practice on how to control hazards on the floor.

“The other important piece to consider is camera and video surveillance. In retail restaurants and grocers in the US, video is pretty standard now, but there remain a lot of issues around keeping video and how long you keep it for. If video accidentally gets destroyed and a retailer is in court fighting a slip and fall claim, that prejudices the case in the court’s eyes. The court always instructs juries to infer that if the video is not available, that means the retailer destroyed it on purpose because it showed something that would be detrimental to their case. Those types of instructions happen all the time, which is why at Argo, we don’t want our clients to reach that point. We’re all about prevention and using technology to assist in risk mitigation.”   

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