You don’t want to deal with a lawsuit right now, do you? Who does? Unless you’re a lawyer, you probably want to stay as far away from lawsuits as you can – and that goes double if you’re a small-business owner.
But what’s the easiest way to keep lawsuits from happening? Simple: prevent General Liability claims, which are among the most common (and preventable) types of lawsuits small-business owners face. These five tips for preventing GL claims are especially useful if your business is open to the public, but nearly any business can benefit from them:
1. Keep All Walkways Dry and Clear of Tripping Hazards
General Liability Insurance is sometimes called “slip-and-fall” insurance for a good reason. It’s the insurance policy that covers claims when a guest, client, or other third party is injured on your property.
Most people know somebody who’s slipped on a patch of ice on the sidewalk or a spill on the floor. You may have done it yourself and just blamed your usual clumsiness. Most of the time, these accidents end in only a bit of embarrassment and bruising. But what happens if somebody is seriously injured at your business? Sometimes, those preventable mishaps lead to lawsuits.
Keep your guests, clients, and visitors safe by always…
- Shoveling snow and spreading salt on your outside walkways during winter.
- Organizing, taping, or otherwise safely storing cables, wires, and ropes.
- Highlighting hard-to-see steps or wet floors with visible signage.
Eliminate the slip-and-fall risks, and you prevent the insurance claim. It’s easy!
2. Provide Adequate Lighting
This, of course, is the natural follow-up to the first tip. It might be cool to have your upscale gastropub dimly lit by captive glow worms and starlight in the dining room, but if you have any stairs, steps, hallways, or walkways, make sure to provide enough lighting for guests to safely traverse their way without twisting their ankles.
You know how movie theaters have those glow strips on the stairs so you don’t trip and fall on your way to and from the bathroom? That’s the bare minimum you should provide at your business. More light is always better from a liability standpoint, at least until you’re blinding someone. Then you’ve gone too far.
3. Think Twice before Posting on Social Media
A lot of people argue that the Internet has been great for small businesses. Working from home, viral marketing, and online transactions are awesome, right? But the Internet can be a double-edged sword, especially if your business uses social media. Writing or saying the wrong thing online can land your business in hot water if you’re not careful.
You may have some bad things to say about a competitor, or you may have had a particularly awful time working with a certain client. Before you log into your social media account and spout off your feelings, know that your post could have unintended consequences. In fact, your competitor or former client might just take enough offense to sue you, alleging you committed libel or slander.
For the record…
- Libel and slander are defamatory statements, either written or spoken, respectively.
- If someone can prove the public statements are false and harmed their reputation, they have perfectly legal grounds for a lawsuit.
Before you post anything about someone else, ask yourself, “Do I really need to say this? How will it make my business look?” If you’re genuinely trying to warn others about shady business practices and you have proof to back up your statements, it’s a good idea to consult with a lawyer first. If you’re just angry or making up lies to harm the competition, you’re only inviting a lawsuit.
For more on that, read "Use Social Media? Make Sure You Have a General Liability Insurance Policy."
4. Follow Protocol for Handling Customer Property in Your Care, Custody, or Control
Do you handle customer property as part of your business? Maybe you repair smartphone screens. Maybe you’re an interior designer and have to take charge of a client’s living room from time to time. No matter your business, you could be liable for damage to your customer’s property that’s in your care.
To reduce the risk of damage and theft, create and follow procedures for handling client property. Your protocol may specify how to:
- Document and carefully store customers' items.
- Touch or carry customer property, especially if it’s valuable or old.
- Decide who can handle what kind of property, if you have employees.
The point is to make your protocol second nature for you and your employees. That way, customer property stays safe and you aren’t responsible for replacing a 300-year-old kite cabinet fashioned by Benjamin Franklin or something.
5. Properly Train Employees
This covers a wide range of scenarios, but it’s important. If your new employee makes a mistake that leads to a claim or lawsuit, it’s you, the business owner, who’s ultimately responsible. For all the procedures and policies you develop to protect yourself and your business, none of it does any good if your employees don’t know them or aren’t following them.
A good idea when training employees is to educate them on why the procedures exist in the first place: to prevent accidents, damage, and lawsuits. Understanding the "why" behind their work can help them remember the importance of the activity.
A highly trained and educated staff is worth its weight in gold. Eventually, you may even be able to step away from the business and relax, knowing that your employees can hold down the fort and keep lawsuits at bay. That’s the American Dream!
As a last resort, you’ll need General Liability Insurance to cover any claims that do arise. For free quotes from multiple top-rated carriers, just fill out an online insurance application.