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Five of the Most Highly Compensated Slip and Fall Lawsuits

Five of the Most Highly Compensated Slip and Fall Lawsuits

Five of the Most Highly Compensated Slip and Fall Lawsuits

In today’s litigious society, facilities with deep pockets are at risk for expensive lawsuits, particularly for personal injury claims from visitors and licensees. In northern locations where long stretches of inclement weather are common, slip and fall lawsuits are a significant concern for facility managers. The severe injuries that can result from pedestrians slipping on snow and ice often result in severe or permanent disability, leading to large jury verdicts. These five lawsuits made headlines due in part to the staggering amounts recovered by the plaintiffs.

A jury in Staten Island, New York, awarded a woman $4 million for injuries sustained when she fell on a poorly shoveled walkway outside a condominium complex. The plaintiff’s multiple spinal fractures, permanent disability, and constant pain suffered contributed to the large verdict. The amount awarded is particularly remarkable due to the fact that Staten Island juries are traditionally more conservative in awarding damages. This verdict shows that large monetary compensation for plaintiffs is a possibility in all legal climates.

Operators of a Super Eight motel in Connecticut were forced to pay nearly two million dollars in restitution after a man broke his ankle in three places when he fell on an icy sidewalk outside the motel. Part of the reason for the high amount awarded was the fact that the motel operators were aware of the propensity for ice to accumulate and did nothing to reduce the risk or warn people of the potential hazard.

An Iowa woman recovered $1.2 million from Marriot International Inc. and Courtyard Management Corporation after slipping and falling on ice outside the hotel. The testimony of other hotel patrons about the icy conditions helped sway the jury to find for the plaintiff, and the devastating injuries to the woman’s ankle impacted her future earnings, leading to the large verdict.

CVS Pharmacy was forced to pay nearly half a million dollars to an Indiana woman who fell on a sidewalk near the store’s entrance and fractured her ankle. Her injuries were so severe she was required to undergo surgery and have pins, plates, and screws implanted into her ankle. The jury found that CVS violated basic safety rules intended to protect customers by not keeping the walkway clear.

A Massachusetts case involving an elderly man who filed suit against the Target Corporation was notable both because of the size of the final award—$400,000—as well as the decision by the Supreme Court of Massachusetts to abolish the distinction between natural and unnatural accumulations of snow--that is to say accumulation due to natural snowfall vs. the piling of snow or ice in a particular location--which previously could have limited the defendant’s liability.

Plaintiffs who suffer serious injuries can heavily influence trial juries, especially when these plaintiffs are perceived as much weaker than the large corporation, organization, or facility responsible for their accident. Property owners and facility managers are well advised to take preemptive steps to make sure these types of accidents don’t occur, rather than attempt damage control later with costly and protracted litigation that will drain the organization’s resources.

Keeping walkways clear of snow and ice is a challenge for facility managers who must continually monitor weather conditions to ensure proper precautions are being taken to protect the public. However, as these examples demonstrate, it is crucial to have a strong handle on your commercial snow removal plan so as to eliminate the very real risk of liability brought by harsh winter conditions.

Prepare Your Facility For Snow and Ice Melt Flooding & Water Damage

Prepare Your Facility For Snow and Ice Melt Flooding & Water Damage

Prepare Your Facility For Snow and Ice Melt Flooding & Water Damage

Three-quarters of the water supply in the western parts of the United States are derived from the annual snow and ice melt at winter's end. While this is a natural process that is vital to the ecosystem, the flooding it causes can wreak havoc at commercial or industrial facilities. Any facility situated at elevations of less than 7,000 feet (2,134 meters), and especially in areas near lakes and streams, is in real danger of flooding and water damage from snow melt-off.

High-stacked snow deposits, thick and extensive ice sheets, a sudden rise in temperature, and some additional water in the form of rainfall are a recipe for a significant flood. It is precisely those regions with the coldest and snowiest winters that usually will experience the worst flooding incidents when winter finally begins to recede.

Obtaining quality water damage and flood insurance and having a disaster preparedness plan will be critical in dealing with the annual flooding threat, but there are also ways to manage that threat. Ten of the best ways to minimize the effects of flooding and prevent water damage from snow and ice melt include:

1. Pay Close Attention to Forecasts

When a sudden rise in temperatures and/or rain is forecast while deep layers of snow and ice are still on the ground, consider that a warning sign. Also be sure to pay attention to official flood alerts.

2. Power Down Before a Flood

If a flood seems likely and you know there are electrical outlets that could be submerged in the aftermath, power off the facility's main breaker just before the water arrives.

3. Seal Foundation Cracks

It is natural for small cracks and fissures to develop in foundation walls, but these need to be sealed up with masonry caulk or hydraulic cement to prevent leakage.

4. Install a Back-flow Valve

Nothing is worse during a flood than backed-up sewage lines. Invest in a back-flow valve, and you will save yourself some costly water damage repairs.

5. Install a Sump Pump

Lower levels of the building should be equipped with a sump pump to keep water from rising to higher levels and to drain the water. If you already have a sump pump, test its regular and back-up batteries and make sure it is not clogged or pointed the wrong direction.

6. Move Valuables to "Higher Ground"

If your facility has valuable rugs, furnishings, or electronics in below-ground areas, move them to a higher room. If heavy equipment is too difficult to move, place it on concrete blocks at least a foot above expected flood levels.

7. "De-Snow" Your Foundation

Snow sitting piled up against a building's foundation is "water damage waiting to happen." There is no reason not to shovel it back a safe distance before temperatures are projected to rise above freezing.

8. Clear Out Sewage Drains and Downspouts

Inspect and unclog all gutters, downspouts, and drains before the snow melts or water may back up and seep into the building. Also make sure that there is no debris obstructing any sewage drains in the parking lot.

9. Have Sandbags on Standby

You can use sandbags to protect critical structures like outdoor storage shacks from water damage, so make sure you have several in stock before winter stars.

10. Remove Rooftop Snow and Inspect the Roof for Damage

While an inch or two (3 to 5 cm) of rooftop snow is acceptable, you may want to hire a professional to remove excess snow from your roof before it melts. When snow on the facility roof begins to melt, it may enter the building through holes that were small before winter began but have been widened by the freeze/thaw cycle. Inspect the roof in late fall to minimize the risk.

While you need to guard the whole building, your facility's roof and foundation are key to defending it against annual snow and ice melt flooding. Having a well-thought-out plan and implementing it will save you on costly water damage repairs.


Protecting Your Facility from Ice Dams

Protecting Your Facility from Ice Dams

Protecting Your Facility from Ice Dams

Every year, ice dams cause significant damage to commercial and residential properties that frequently costs thousands of dollars in repairs. One recent "nightmare scenario," for example befell a Wisconsin-based business. The ice dams were so extensive and the leak-damage so severe that it 
took $90,000 to get the facility back in good working order.

Protecting your facility from ice dam damage and from the safety hazards that ice dams create is of the utmost importance. First, we will address the causes of ice dams and the process by which they form, and then, we will note some solutions for preventing or removing ice dams.

Ice Dam Formation

Ice dams form when snow melts in the middle area of a roof and then runs down to the eaves and refreezes. The reason that this happens is that the heat from inside the building rises and warms the underside of the roof, which then in turn raises the outer roof temperature above 32°F (0°C). The edges of the roof, however, have no heat source below them and remain at sub-freezing temperatures.

Poor ventilation and insulation lead to a warmer roof and a bigger ice dam problem. Hot air needs to be blocked off from the roof decking but allowed to escape in a controlled way through soffit vents and roof vents. Simply over-heating a building to begin with is also a potential cause of ice damming.

Ironically, it is after a heavy snowfall and during times of extreme cold that your roof is most likely to heat up and produce an ice dam. This is because a deep blanket of snow on your roof makes for excellent insulation, trapping in the heat and accelerating the melt-rate of snow. Heat will also move more quickly when temperature differences are more extreme, and colder weather means faster freezing at the eaves.

Problems Caused by Ice Dams

When left unattended, ice dams can grow to enormous sizes, back up under roof shingles, and cause leaks to develop. Water will drip inside the building and ruin drywall, make paint peel, and damage wood flooring. Given ideal temperatures and humidity levels, mold will also likely result.

The water backed up behind the ice dam may not only cause leaks, however. It may also cause huge icicles to form and occasionally break and fall on entryways. Water may also drizzle down onto the entryway and refreeze, creating a slipping hazard.

The expense of preventing and removing ice dams can sometimes be great, but the dangers and expenses of not doing so are even greater.

Solutions to Ice Dam Problems

While extreme weather conditions sometimes make ice dam formation inevitable, there are ways to minimize the risks. Some of the most important solutions include:

  • Upgrade under-roof insulation and increase building ventilation. Fan-powered vents are especially effective.
  • Clean and unclog all gutters and downspouts before winter to prevent melt-off from getting backed up.
  • Remove excessive snow from the roof with a roof rake with a 15 to 20 foot (4.5 - 6 m) handle.
  • Use heat trace cables on the roof to melt a pathway in the snow for the water to run off the roof, so it doesn’t back up into the shingles.
  • Hire a professional contractor to remove an ice dam by a high-temperature, low-pressure steaming method.
  • Get ice dam repairs and removal covered on your facility's insurance policy.
  • To prevent ice dam melt-off from refreezing and creating a safety hazard, use a heated floor mat at entrances.

If severe winter storms make ice dams unavoidable, professional steam removal may become necessary. However, by taking action ahead of time, you can often prevent the formation of ice dams on your facility. Doing so will save money, enhance safety levels, and ease your overall commercial snow removal.