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How do I protect my business from winter accident liability?

As winter approaches, so will an increase in ice and snow related accidents. These accidents, of course, are not limited to individuals' personal residences. They occur frequently in parking lots and sidewalks of public establishments, businesses and municipal buildings.

With more than 15 years of legal experience providing premises liability defense for individuals, businesses and insurance companies, we have seen a significant number of accidents that could have been avoided. Self-insured business owners should remember that with some simple planning measures and attention to important details, you can protect yourself and your business against unnecessary exposure to liability.

In New York, a showing of negligence is required to recover damages for a slip-and-fall claim. This means that the unsafe conditions of a property could have been avoided through some reasonable measures. However, by taking some simple precautions, you can keep people safe and hopefully avoid liability for winter accident injuries. 

The first and most obvious step in this regard involves making sure you have a solid plan in place for snow and ice removal, including shoveling and salting. If you farm this work out to an outside entity, make sure you work with a reliable company with a reputation for consistency. If you use your own personnel for snow and ice removal, make sure you give the task to someone you trust to make sure the job is done right.

Another step is proper signage. It's surprising perhaps, but many people simply forget that there might be icy, unsafe conditions when entering a store or other establishment. Almost invariably, New Yorkers are in a hurry, so it's easy to forget about the slippery conditions in a parking lot or sidewalk when rushing to or from a storefront. A clear, visible warning sign can do wonders in preventing accidents from happening in the first place.

Finally, make sure to remember indoor safety measures regarding winter conditions. Water commonly gathers and pools from people's shoes and boots near building entrances. This pooling water is especially dangerous with tile, cement and hardwood floors. Make sure you have someone mopping and taking care of the floors in your establishment.

Although these measures will not insure that no one ever has an accident on your property or that you will never face a lawsuit, they can help you protect your customers from accidents and help you avoid liability if a lawsuit does arise.

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