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In 2007, a grease spill at a Walmart Inc. store in Greeley, Colorado, wound up costing the Bentonville, Arkansas-based retailing giant nearly $10 million.
A truck driver making a delivery to the store slipped in some grease on the floor and ruptured a disc in her spine and injured her shoulder and neck, court records state in Averyt v. Wal-Mart Stores Inc.
While Walmart maintained there was no grease spill at the store, the plaintiff’s attorneys produced city documents referring to a grease spill in the store’s deli.
The original $15 million award in 2010 was later reduced due to a state-imposed cap on noneconomic damages, but the hefty award underscores the potential impact of a slip-and-fall incident.
Kevin Renfro, managing partner at the Becker Law Office P.L.C. in Louisville, Kentucky, who has represented plaintiffs for 30 years, said business owners have to do their best to foresee hazards and warn people if a hazard exists.
“I’ve seen businesses that frequently patrol the stores and are very diligent to ensure the safety of their customers,” he said, “and then I’ve seen some businesses that unfortunately kind of slack off.”
Mr. Renfro said insurers “are great sources of reference for business owners to compare notes with to make their business practices as sound as possible.”
“I do think that businesses would probably be better served by having better communication with their insurance companies about loss prevention and to share information, because the industry sees so many of these cases,” he said.
Lance Ewing, a former president of the Risk & Insurance Management Society Inc. and executive vice president for global risk management at Cotton Holdings Inc. in Katy, Texas, said risk managers should tout the fact that they are responding to slip-and-fall hazards.
“I think it helps to reduce the premium, and I also think it helps provide an awareness to the insurance carriers and to management that this is an area which we’re trying to address,” he said.
Cindy Smail, Southfield, Michigan-based senior vice president within the workforce strategies practice of Marsh Risk Consulting, a unit of Marsh L.L.C., said underwriters are looking to see if retailers recognize their major issues, like slips and falls, and “are you moving toward helping solve those things?”
Robert Moraca, vice president of loss prevention for the National Retail Federation in Washington, stressed the importance of having a written policy for addressing slips and falls and adhering to it.
Among other things, Mr. Moraca said, retailers should have a policy that outlines the type of anti-slip footwear employees should wear, creating and maintaining good housekeeping policies, and cleanup spills quickly.
In addition, he said, retailers should have a procedure in place to report, cordon off and quickly cleanup any spills or other tripping hazards. Also have signage in place that does not allow customers to climb ladders to get items stored on top shelves.
“The worst thing you can do is have the correct policy in place and then violate it,” he said. “You might as well not have a policy if you have one and ignore it. You have to have the program, it has to be fluid, it has to be robust and it has to be a culture. There’s an old saying: ‘Culture eats strategy for breakfast every day.’”
While the retail sector has seen extensive changes over the years, safety experts say that slips and falls remain a major — and expensive problem — for the industry.