What goes up must come down — but it should never come down on your customers’ heads. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that 399 workers lost their lives in 2008 when they were struck by falling or flying objects. While we may associate the perils of falling objects with construction businesses, retail establishments also face similar dangers.
A review by Verdict Search of recent jury verdicts arising from falling objects shows the dangers associated with these injuries. Here is a sampling:
- $10 million to a warehouseman paralyzed after 400 pounds of cardboard slid of a rack that after a lift truck bumped the cardboard.
- $3.2 million to a store patron struck by unsecured countertops, fracturing her pelvis in two places.
- $1.5 million to a man left with a spinal cord injury when hit by a wheelbarrow that blew off a work-site roof.
- $325,000 to a man who sustained a fractured vertebra when a couch fell off the fifth-floor deck of a condo. In this case, the condo owner and the building owner took turns pointing fingers at each other. Their joint defense was that the plaintiff “healed well.” Not always a smart argument.
How can business proactively manage worksites and merchandise to avoid injuries? Claims expert Kevin Quinley, Vice President of Berkley Life Sciences, has a few ideas.
“I’ve always thought that accident prevention can go far in avoiding the cost and distraction of falling merchandise claims. For instance, stores should be cautious in implementing certain kinds of towering displays; anything higher than perhaps the average shopper can reach. Further, train store employees to regularly scour the store for unsafe situations or exposures, much like spilt juice on the floor that needs cleaning. They should immediately fix or properly re-stack shelves.
“Stores also find that customers sometimes move ladders to scale and reach for products on higher-rack shelving. Label and allow only qualified employees to use this equipment. This is also done in plants for use of motorized equipment, such as forklifts,” according to Quinley.
Superstore and merchandise warehouse stores like Walmart and Home Depot have had their share of injuries. Many accidents occur before the holidays as stores prepare for the holiday gift-buying season, so use extra caution when extra merchandise arrives.
Children are particularly vulnerable and parents should maintain tight control over their movements. However, this does not always happen so train store personnel to intervene as diplomatically as possible when children lack parental control.
If customers are injured, the public relations fallout can be enormous. One law firm accused a retailer on the firm’s website of deciding, “it was cheaper to defend injury claims than to store merchandise carefully.” What business owner needs that kind of public relations nightmare?
By keeping property stored correctly, an organization’s loss ratios and insurance rates will decline, Quinley said. “Merchants’ inventory storage can harmonize with safety concerns. What customers want are falling prices . . . not falling merchandise!”