What is a premises liability policy?

Many people who own or manage a business, or any property that’s open to the public, have concerns about premises liability. This is a legal term for when someone is injured due to an unsafe situation on a property – for example, when a customer slips on a wet floor and falls inside of a shopping mall. 

In court, these claims are decided based on fault, and in some cases, the injured party may not be able to provide sufficient evidence that their injury was solely the fault of the property owner. (North Carolina contributory negligence laws require that the defendant in these cases be found 100% responsible for the incident, or they don’t have to pay any damages.) But you don’t want to go to court in a premises liability claim if you can avoid it, for several reasons:

  • Even if the situation wasn’t your organization’s fault, it might not be possible to prove that in court, and there’s always the possibility that the jury will find in the plaintiff’s favor.
  • Sometimes, the plaintiff’s injury may actually be your organization’s fault. Even if you take every safety precaution and train your employees on safety protocols, things can go wrong. Sometimes employees just don’t do what they’re told. Sometimes no one notices the spill on aisle 5. Even if you and other management did everything right, you may still find yourselves liable for a situation where someone was injured.
  • Even if the injuries were not your fault and you can prove it without too much difficulty, going to court is expensive between court costs and attorney’s fees. It can also result in bad press, even if the jury eventually finds in your favor, not to mention all the time it wastes.

Business owners or managers will usually invest in premise liability insurance for their property/properties for all of these reasons. This is a type of insurance that covers you in situations where someone is hurt on your property, such as:

  • Slip/trip and fall accidents.
  • Negligent security situations (where someone was harmed due to a lack of security efforts).
  • Dog bites.
  • Drownings or near-drownings.
  • Fires or electrical burns.
  • Injuries caused by chemical hazards.
  • Other situations in which some issue on the property led to an injury.

What Should You Do If Someone Is Hurt On Your Property?

Ask if they’re okay or need medical attention. If so, call 911 and stay with them until an ambulance arrives, following any instructions the 911 operator gives you. (This should be part of all your employees’ training since you may not be on the property every day.) While you stay with the victim, look around and make a note of everyone there, in case you need to speak with witnesses later on. Ask for the injured person’s name and contact info so you can follow up on how they’re doing.

Once the injured party has received medical care, investigate the scene of the accident, take pictures and ask all your employees what they witnessed. Make detailed notes in case they’re needed. Some corporate offices have a policy of requiring the store manager to send in a report on any accident that happens in the store, even if the injuries seem minor. This is an excellent idea, and you may use a standardized form to make this process easier. Save this paperwork for three years. It may seem like a lot of work for a minor incident, but it may be essential if the corporate office gets served with a lawsuit. If your store is small and doesn’t have a corporate office, the store manager should keep this paperwork in a secure area and back it up electronically for the same reasons.

Why is this important if you have insurance? There are several reasons. First of all, while insurance is meant to protect you, the insurance company doesn’t want to pay out any more than necessary. If you look over your policy, you’ll likely find there are a number of situations they don’t cover. You may notice some clauses that indicate “X type of injury will not be covered if the insured fails to do Y and Z.” Usually, Y and Z are safety precautions. Again, it’s possible one of your employees decided to watch TikTok videos on their phone instead of doing Y and Z. Now, the insurance company doesn’t want to pay and doesn’t have to, but the injured person is suing your store.

Can they prove the accident was your fault? Was it? Just because the insurance company won’t cover you if you didn’t do Y and Z doesn’t necessarily mean the injury was your fault. Sometimes doing Y and Z would not have made any difference in the particular situation that led to the accident. And if you’ve taken detailed notes and pictures, plus interviewed all the witnesses, you may have the evidence you need to prove it in court.

Additionally, all insurance policies have limits. Usually, a liability policy has sufficient coverage to handle an injured person’s medical bills, lost wages, pain and suffering, property damage, etc. But in some cases, if they were severely injured or even developed a permanent disability. As a result, they may have more injuries than the policy covers. In this case, they may sue you for the difference. Again, having clear notes and preserving evidence of what happened will help if you need to defend yourself in a lawsuit.

Do Homeowners Also Need Premises Liability Insurance?

Yes. Homeowners are not required to carry liability insurance in North Carolina, but if you have a mortgage, it may be a requirement of your lender. Even if you don’t, you should buy liability insurance in case someone is hurt on your property. Accidents can happen any time – when someone comes to make a repair, when you have guests over, when your children are playing with their friends in the yard, or when a solicitor marches up to your door to try to sell you something. If one of these common situations turns into a serious injury, you should know that you have at least some coverage. If you entertain frequently or often have large numbers of guests, you might consider a more robust policy.

What About Renters?

Renters should also consider a renter’s insurance policy that covers liability, for all the same reasons listed above. Sometimes people incorrectly believe that an injury will always be the landlord’s problem, not the tenant’s. But this is highly dependent on who controls the area where the accident happened. In most cases, property owners are responsible for injuries that happen in common areas like the lobby, the stairwell, the elevator, the yard or parking lot, etc. But if the incident occurs inside your apartment or another area under your control, it will probably be your responsibility, so you need a policy to cover you for liability.

If you have questions or concerns about an injury you’ve suffered on someone else’s property, please contact Auger and Auger Accident and Injury Lawyers for a free consultation. We’ll look over your premises liability case and let you know your options for pursuing a claim. You can reach us online or by calling 828-222-7649.