When workplace injuries occur and the employer doesn't have, or doesn't follow proper procedures, that employer could end up in legal hot water. A recent case involving a supermarket provides an illustration of what can go wrong. Here are the details.
Someone left a banana peel on the smooth tile floor, and a shopper slipped and fell on it, landing hard on his left side. Initially, he told store employees he was okay, though he felt a little sore. However, as he resumed shopping, the store co-manager noticed the person was limping.
The manager then followed the standard procedures his employer had set up in case of workplace injuries to staff, customers or vendors. He conducted interviews of employees who witnessed the event and completed the critical incident reporting checklist provided by the employer.
However, the co-manager failed to retain any copies of security camera videos, nor did he note that he reviewed these videos in his report. He also neglected to take photographs of the scene at the time. These oversights would eventually become critical to the case.
Meanwhile, the customer continued his shopping. When he got to his car in the store parking lot, he said he began to feel dizzy and he had numbness and tingling in his extremities. Subsequently he went to his physician and began a series of follow-up treatments. Nine months later, he filed a lawsuit against the supermarket, claiming the store's negligence contributed to his fall.
As the lawsuit progressed, the store moved to dismiss the case due to lack of evidence supporting the shopper's claims. But a judge ruled that the store had actually spoiled evidence that could have supported the plaintiff's case and allowed the trial to go forward. Eventually, the plaintiff won an award of $2.5 million.
Later, an appeals court ruled that the lower court erred in not allowing a store employee to testify in the trial and ordered a new trial. As a result, the case is still pending. However, this should serve as a warning to other businesses and employers: A simple slip-and-fall case involving a banana peel can, indeed, lead to judgments of millions of dollars.
Furthermore, any failure or oversight on the part of store management to preserve evidence can work in the plaintiff's favor. Such lapses may lead a jury to award much higher judgments.
Employers should make an effort to establish complete post-accident procedures including:
By doing so, businesses are able to preserve any evidence of mitigation that would exonerate the company of negligence or even expose the plaintiff as a liar, if warranted. When a business attempts to conceal evidence, or simply neglects to provide the evidence, courts will generally interpret these actions as a way to hide potentially damaging information.
Additionally, companies should maintain multiple layers of insurance protection against claims that could arise in the course of business. This protection might include:
How you handle the accidents could be the difference between a minor issue and a major lawsuit. Take the time to look over your operating procedures for handling mishaps, as well as the specific training you've provided your employees, to ensure the best possible outcomes.
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