The latest twist in the story of the Philadelphia building collapse that killed six people and injured more than a dozen others highlights how liability exposure (and expensive lawsuits) work in the real world: the Salvation Army located next door to the collapsed building, which was badly damaged and was where the injured and killed parties were at the time of the collapse, has been named in a lawsuit.
Translation: whether or not the Salvation Army did anything wrong, it will now have to pay for lawyers’ bills and court costs as it defends itself against liability claims. Here’s a look at how that liability exposure works and what you can do to protect your business from facing similar legal bills.
Background: Philadelphia Building Collapse
In June, a building being demolished in Philadelphia collapsed. In addition to the casualties mentioned above, the collapse caused significant property damage to the Salvation Army building located next door.
Initial investigations suggested that there were several problems: it seems the contractor charged with the demolition was working with an expired insurance policy, the methods of demolition have been called into question, and, according to the Washington Post, the low bid the contractor offered to complete the project should have raised red flags.
Now, sources note, one of the women injured in the collapse has filed charges against the Salvation Army, which appeared, at first glance, to be itself a victim of the collapse.
Lawsuit: Salvation Army Ignored Warnings of Unsafe Conditions
According to reporting from CBS news, the Salvation Army’s store manager had been exchanging emails with a property manager responsible for the demolished property prior to the incident. It seems that, in those emails, the property manager warned the Salvation Army’s manager that the demolition would create an unsafe environment for employees and shoppers.
Sources report that the lawyer representing several victims of the collapse considers the emails adequate reason to charge the Salvation Army with liability in the ongoing lawsuit, citing the missives as evidence that the thrift store’s manager was aware of the threat of physical injury to patrons and employees but took no action to prevent it.
Negligence Charges Could Mean Expensive Settlement or Judgment
So what do the charges mean for the Salvation Army? That depends on what happens in court. From the perspective of the owner of a retail shop, there are several important considerations:
- Funding a legal defense. When you’re faced with liability charges in court, you have little choice but to defend yourself. Most often, that means hiring a lawyer to construct a legal defense. If the Salvation Army has adequate insurance policies in place (in this case, a General Liability or Errors & Omissions Insurance policy will likely suffice, depending on the specific charges against the shop), paying for the legal defense should be no problem, as most liability policies provide funding for legal representation. Without such a policy, though, the Salvation Army may have to pay its lawyers’ bills out of pocket.
- Deciding whether to settle. Often, parties agree to settle outside of court to save the time and expense of a drawn-out trial. Even if the courts are unlikely to find the Salvation Army liable for injuries related to the collapse, it might agree to pay a relatively small amount to avoid the headaches and legal bills of an ongoing lawsuit. Luckily, GLI can also cover settlement costs.
- Maintaining or rebuilding the store’s reputation. Any time your business is named in a lawsuit, your reputation takes a hit, regardless of how frivolous the underlying charges. Even if a spurious charge is dropped or tossed out by the court, your business will have some uphill work to do to restore the shine to its reputation and may have to devote resources to a public relations, marketing, or advertising campaigns aimed at rebuilding its name.
Protecting Your Business from Costly Court Cases
While you can’t control whether someone decides to sue your business, you can take measures to prevent a lawsuit from draining your personal or business assets. One key step, of course, is investing in adequate business insurance. General Liability coverage protects you when you face a lawsuit of property damage or personal injury to someone other than employee of your shop, Errors & Omissions coverage protects you when a third party sues you for negligence in performing your work, and Property coverage protects you when your premises or inventory are damaged.