What if a customer falls in your store?

Keeping people safe while they’re in your store is just as important as selling merchandise.

Mercantile Blog Image - Wet Floor Sign

By Mita Biswas
Commercial Lines Account Executive

I've never met a store owner who wanted someone to get hurt while shopping at their business. The thought of a customer falling for any reason is enough to make most proprietors shudder. Much worse, imagine someone falls and gets hurt, and then puts the blame on you. That's enough to keep any business owner up at night.

If you're building a successful retail business, you're probably thinking a lot about the experience customers have when they visit your store. You want them to have a positive experience so they make a purchase and return for more. Unfortunately, accidents and other unexpected conditions can happen at any time, especially when you have a lot of people visiting your location (which hopefully, you do). When it comes to having a successful retail business, keeping people safe while they're in your store is just as important as selling merchandise.

The good news? Most business owners are good people and want their customers to be safe anyway. If you know that someone bumped into an end cap of seasonal craft beer and two of the cases fell and spilled pale ale onto the floor, you may have an obligation to clean it up and may also have to warn customers of the wet floor. You're probably reading this and nodding your head in agreement. Seems obvious, doesn't it?

Well, what if you didn't see the spill and someone slipped and fell just seconds after it happened?

Or what if you're in a cold weather climate and you constantly battle the snow that gets tracked through the front door. You try to keep it dry, but there's just so much snow … and someone falls as they're walking into your store.

Just because someone fell in your store does not necessarily mean that you will be found negligent. In the example with the end cap beer bottles spilling on the floor, the danger might not be so obvious. Sure, someone who saw it fall might know to step around the spilled beer. But what about someone who is coming down one of the aisles a while later, as the spill is being cleaned up, and slips on the still-wet floor?

It may be important that we're able to figure out what really happened when someone falls in a retail establishment. The first few moments after an incident may be crucial - not only for getting the person help, if needed - but also for establishing exactly what just occurred, if possible. 

Wondering what you may do now to help be prepared? Here are some things to consider.

Make sure you keep records of your maintenance, repairs and inspections for the store, and keep them organized and easily accessible. It may seem like extra paperwork that you don't have time for, but it could make a difference if something happens.

If one of your customers does slip and fall, there are also some steps that you may want to take right away to increase your chances for a positive outcome for everyone involved. While every situation is different, my company created an infographic with examples of what you may want to consider doing if a slip and fall occurs in your store.

The first thing you'll do is make sure that the person who fell is okay. If they need help, call for emergency assistance right away. That person's health should be your first priority (you might be thinking that's obvious, but it's worth repeating).

Next, you want to document the exact conditions of the area where the person fell. Take pictures.  Today, many of us walk around with smartphones in our pocket, so this one is easier today than it might have been in the past. It might seem insensitive to start taking pictures right away, but it could be critical to have an accurate record of everything going on in that area in that moment. You might want to take pictures like the area next to where a spill occurred, and any wet floor signs or absorbent mats you may have put in place.

Another thing that might seem insensitive is asking other shoppers what they saw - but again, this may be important for figuring out what really happened. You might consider asking the people around what they saw, writing it down, and getting their name and contact information, if possible. 

Next, you might consider filling out some paperwork, such as a detailed an accident report, right down to the kind of shoes the person who fell was wearing. 

Get your records ready to provide to your insurance agent and company. This may include documentation of such things as; maintenance, repairs, inspections, snow removal or salt application (if it applies in your situation), and anything else that might be helpful.  

And get in touch with your insurance agent right away - even if you're not sure that the customer will file a claim. Experience shows that the sooner your agent can get involved, the better.

We also recommend that you consult an attorney who specializes in this particular area. They can advise you on any obligations you might owe as a store owner to help keep your customers safe from falls, as well as  what to do if a slip and fall does happen  in your store.

This isn't a situation you'll enjoy spending time thinking about. But being prepared now may help make your life much easier  if a customer falls in your store.

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