Tripping into Litigation
It’s impossible to watch TV without seeing an advertisement from an attorney assuring prospective clients that their alleged accident was not their fault. In the brief 20-30 second commercial, viewers are convinced that they are the victim and will win a settlement, setting them up for the rest of their life with wealth beyond their wildest dreams. The injured parties are convinced a big (mean and greedy) insurance company will pay them and because of this, it’s a “windfall” for them.
Reality tells us, it is the business being sued that ultimately shoulders these costs. Often the company has 50 or fewer employees and is struggling to stay in business by giving their customers exceptional service. They are in a very price competitive environment trying their best to offer a very aggressive wage and benefit package to their associates. Now, on top of increasing health costs, they are facing workers compensation costs and liability insurance cost increases that seem insurmountable at times. You find out (from the lawsuit) it all started with a simple floor mat you rented to your customer and was delivered and placed by a service representative of your company.
This happens everyday in our business and we tend to find out late in the game this “freight train” is heading our way! So, let’s try to even the playing field. Make sure relationships are in place with the customer and those who can communicate to you immediately when an incident takes place with your rented product. Then:
- Secure the mat (if at all possible.) Pull it out of service for evidence purposes. This is paramount!
- Get names, addresses, etc., of any witnesses. Written (signed) statements help keep details fresh.
- Secure any video if possible. 24 hours around the alleged incident can tell more than you realize. Ask for this in writing.
- Take your own pictures. Especially of anything abnormal (damaged, wet floors, loose thresholds.) Don’t delay!
- Note the traffic pattern. i.e. delivery carts, wheel chairs, etc. Anything other than normal traffic.
- Interview the service person to assure all policy and procedures were followed.
- Make notes of when your last service of the mat took place. Also, find out if the customer ever picks up the mat for cleaning purposes and places it back in its proper location when finished?
- Note and record the weather conditions that day.
- If possible, work to secure information such as footwear worn by the person making the claim.
All this information can assist in defending the claim and the earlier it is obtained, the more valuable it can be. Time seems to blur facts.
I know this seems like a lot to ask our people to handle. Especially when we already place so much responsibility on them for the everyday responsibilities of our business. One simple suggestion; do you already have a safety manager? You should! Involve your safety manager in picking and training a responsible person to handle the tasks outlined in this article. It might even be them.
Be proactive, make sure all sales and service personnel realize “See / Hear Something: Say Something.” Report any incidents immediately, even if it falls into the “Near Miss” category. Applying this rule throughout your organization can drive your workers compensation and liability costs down to manageable levels thus driving higher margins! Customers love doing business with companies that promote safety.
Fred Anderson consults with Industrial Laundries on a variety of issues. For more information, go to AndersonSafetyAssociates.com or call (678) 644-9658.