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A Quick Primer on Premises Liability for WV Businesses

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Running any business in the Mountain State runs the standard risk that something may happen on business property that could open you up to liability. The law imposes a duty on business operators to keep employees, customers, clients, and visitors safe on business property. Inevitably, however, accidents happen. Knowing the areas to watch for potential risk is the first step to preventing a claim. Read on to discover what WV premises liability attorney Oscar R. Molina has to say in part two of his four-part series on premises liability for WV businesses.

What Kind of Incidents Lead to Premises Liability for WV Businesses?

WV business operators have a duty to maintain the premises in a reasonably safe condition. Reigning in the risk of premises liability claims should be part of the business's overall risk management program. Key to the ability to do that is knowing where the problem areas could be. The kinds of incidents that businesses should look out for can be categorized into three types: physical environment, equipment, and other people. Evaluating the safety and security of these areas and taking steps to remedy potential risks should be the bare minimum the business does to prevent injury and resulting premises liability claims.

Inspect the Physical Environment of the Building and Property

The physical environment of business property is the first area most people check for liability risks. Both obvious and latent dangerous conditions on business property can exist, making use of the property or even mere entry onto it hazardous.

A business's buildings and grounds are obvious places to watch for potential risk, but that risk can arise in different ways. In addition to the effects of time on structures and property, the physical condition of the building and property can be influenced by nature or by artificial conditions. At a minimum, business operators should check these traditional areas for potential safety risks:

  • Parking lots, which should have adequate signage, fresh painted lines, concrete structures in good condition, and a lack of potholes;
  • Staircases, elevators, and escalators, which should be maintained and inspected regularly and in working order;
  • Railings, which should be regularly inspected and maintained;
  • Sidewalks, which should lack uneven areas and be compliant with local codes;
  • Common areas such as hallways and floors, which should not be uneven or slippery from wax, water or other foreign material; and
  • Foliage, which should not impair the line of site from business property to adjoining roadways.

Natural events such as snow, sleet, rain, ice, downed limbs, or even excess foliage growth can create hazards in any outdoor areas, and weaknesses in a structure may allow such events to create hazards indoors as well. Physical areas can also be affected by manmade worries such as spills, broken glass, debris, water leaks, flooding, or the effects of normal wear and tear. The case of a typical slip and fall in WV often arises in just such circumstances.

Some property types such as swimming pools, amusement parks, and places where animals are present are especially at risk of safety hazards, although business premises liability can arise in any type of business.

Equipment and Building Caveats

Premises liability for WV businesses can also arise from the condition or use of the business's equipment. Equipment includes items beyond that used for manufacturing or processing. Areas of concern include the following:

  • Lighting should be properly located and bright enough to offer sufficient visibility for employees and visitors;
  • Locks and other security features should prevent unauthorized persons from entering certain areas or the property itself;
  • Equipment should be used as intended and designed, safely stowed or turned off when not in use, and regularly maintained;
  • Appliances should not have exposed cords that could impede traffic and be at risk of getting wet;
  • Merchandise displays should be secured and stable and not sticking out in aisles; and
  • Signage should be securely displayed, provide sufficient notice of any warnings or other business-related information.

Premises Liability Claims Related to People

Despite best attempts to provide adequate warnings and notices of conditions on and around the property, businesses cannot always predict or control the behavior of people. As a result, premises liability for WV businesses can arise due to the actions of people. These risks come from different categories of people: employees, visitors, and trespassers.

Business owners like have the most control over the employees they hire, but negligent hiring practices and inadequate employee monitoring put the business at risk. Even if the hiring process is not suspect, business owners should take seriously any reports or indications that employees may sometimes pose a risk to others

How to Avoid Claims on Premises Liability for WV Businesses

To protect residents, guests, invitees, employees, and even trespassers, businesses should aim to keep their premises in a reasonably safe condition. Being proactive and keeping a regular maintenance schedule with frequent inspections can help businesses avoid liability altogether by catching the very things that can cause problems.

Businesses can engage in many good practices to avoid or diminish liability:

  • Stay alert and be aware of the condition of the premises at all times;
  • Diligently monitor the condition of and visitors to business premises on a regular basis;
  • Conduct frequent inspections pursuant to well-developed policies and procedures;
  • Engage in regular, scheduled maintenance;
  • Provide signage that is timely and informative let both employees and visitors know of any potential dangers;
  • Adequately and promptly address any issues that you do find;
  • Do "sweat the small stuff" (cords sticking out, sliding floor mats, poorly placed electrical outlets);
  • Supply guards where it is prudent to do so;
  • Enlist the help of outside entities that can help you spot where you are deficient;
  • Pay attention to the placement of equipment and merchandise;
  • Install mechanisms that take some of the work away from you, such as machines that wrap umbrellas in plastic sheaths (to avoid water in the hallways on rainy days);
  • At a minimum, make sure your business is compliant with all local and statewide requirements such as the West Virginia State Building Code; and
  • Be proactive.

And if All Else Fails. . .

As discussed in the next blog in this series, prevention is key to avoiding premises liability claims. If an incident does occur, pay attention to the details at the time of the injury, noting the conditions at the time of the incident and what the complainant was wearing or doing. And always consult with a WV premises liability lawyer to ensure that you are making wise decisions.

Premises liability for WV businesses can mean the difference between staying in business and shuttering. To learn more about how to protect your business from premises liability claims or to defend against a current claim, contact WV premises liability lawyer Oscar R. Molina by phone at (304) 523-2100 or (866) 617-4736 or complete Jenkins Fenstermaker, PLLC's online contact form. You can also follow Oscar Molina on social media here:

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