“I have seen people get hurt in every way imaginable,” says Bill Robertson, the CEO of Kirk-Pinkerton, PA and who has been practicing personal injury law for 32 years. “I understand the law. I understand how and why a business or individual can be liable for injuries under Florida law.
Whether it is an accident involving a company vehicle or an accident on a business’ premises, your company’s potential liabilities are countless. Well before any of these incidents occur, you should take the steps that are necessary to protect yourself and your businesses. There are three vital ways to protect yourself and your company: adequate insurance, structured property ownership and addressing known risks.
- Adequate insurance. Take full advantage of your insurance company’s services, Robertson advises. The insurance company will do a risk assessment of your business in order to assess its underwriting risk and to recommend coverages to protect your interests. Talk to them about your company’s risks. Not only will this give you an opportunity to address problems before they happen, but you may also earn a break on your premium. Above all: Make sure your policy covers all of your company’s assets.
- Structure your property ownership. This is especially important if your company employs a fleet of vehicles, which are considered “dangerous instrumentalities” and can, therefore, represent massive liability. “You can place the title to your vehicles in a separate LLC, which can act as a liability cushion to protect the main entity,” says Robertson. “There are ways to structure the ownership of your vehicles to help protect yourself from claims that go upstream.”
- Fix your risks. “If you own a piece of property, know that it is safe,” says Robertson. Of course, this is your best possible risk management: to prevent an accident from happening in the first place.
The law also places liability directly on the business owner to address dangerous conditions “that they know about or should have known about,” says Robertson. You are expected to be an expert of your own property and to protect a third party from risks that they may not be aware. You have a duty to be vigilant. If you are aware of something and you do not do anything about it, then you are on the hook.
This includes addressing physical hazards like uneven sidewalks and wet aisles. In other words, says Robertson, “If someone tells you there is a slippery floor, get over there and clean it up or put up a sign. More importantly, make sure your property complies with all of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requirements regarding disabled parties or others who might visit the premises.
Beyond physical hazards, company owners can also be responsible for addressing security concerns, like installing extra security if there is a history of robberies near their property.
Landlords can even be held responsible for dog bites if they are aware that a tenant owns a potentially dangerous dog. If you are going to rent to someone who owns a dog, you should require that lessee to have renters’ insurance that applies to the animal, too. Otherwise, “If that dog attacks somebody and it turns out they do not have renters’ insurance and they do not have any assets, the plaintiff may pursue a claim against the landlord,” says Robertson.
Virtually every company is susceptible to a lawsuit, and your potential liability can be reduced, but never eliminated entirely. Ultimately, Robertson returns to the concept of financial protection through adequate insurance. “You can only do so much legally to protect yourself,” he says, “but if something happens, the most important thing you can have is insurance that protects against that loss.” In short: Accidents happen. Be prepared.