‘Slip and Fall’ AT THE RENTAL PROPERTY, WHAT IS THE NEXT STEP?

As we enter March, slip and fall season is still in full swing. As we have written in the past, the Colorado Premises Liability Act can cast a broad net of potential liability. Take a look back at our August 2018 article on Amenities and liability for a discussion about premises liability and amenities, and you can also go way back to June 2011 for a review of basics of premises liability. At the Firm, we hear from clients on a very regular basis regarding claims of injuries on properties at this time of year that are related to slip and fall allegations. Because of this, we thought it would be useful to look at the practical approach of what to do when there is ‘slip and fall’ claim on your property. Prevention and risk mitigation are the favored approach, but even the best snow removal, ice removal, can still result in injury and lead to someone making a claim against a property manager and owner.

Clients get notified of potential injuries in various manners. Sometimes it is a professional courtesy of a well-written demand letter from a Plaintiff’s injury attorney that identifies the injured party and time of injury and requests insurance information. Other times a resident may reach out and notify the office of an incident that resulted in medical bills. Then there is the unusual situation, where an unauthorized occupant enters the management office with cell phone camera in hand, claiming that they were injured on the property and demanding satisfaction.

When a claim is made by a tenant there are few things to keep in mind before responding to the resident. It is going to be important to put key people on notice of the claim. Starting with the property owner, and it is also critical that both management and ownership’s insurance is notified about the claim being made. Failure to notify insurance can lead to a claim being denied for failing to report the claim in a timely manner pursuant to the insurance policy. Depending on the situation that could be a costly mistake, that everyone would prefer avoiding. Before committing to any sort of communication with the resident or any resolution, it is going to be important to gather as much information about the situation as you can from the initial notice of a potential claim. The insurance providers that will likely handle the claim are going to need information about the alleged injury.

Obtaining documentation regarding the incident is also important. Even more critical, is determining if this an issue that is related to a problem at the property that needs to be addressed immediately? Sometimes in a ‘slip and fall’ situation, the fall may have taken place prior to the snow removal being done and the hazard is no longer an issue. However, investigating the area is important, and involving maintenance to inspect the area can be helpful. Documentation is also key before any modifications are done to the area, but not always possible. For example, If the office is notified of a slip and fall immediately after it occurred, take pictures and document the area prior to removing the snow.

Once documentation is obtained, it must be preserved. If pictures are taken and then destroyed that can be a violation of the law. Destruction of relevant evidence in a case is called spoliation of evidence, and everyone involved in the destruction of relevant evidence can have liability for the destruction of the evidence.

Not every ‘slip and fall’ results in a lawsuit, and sometimes a tenant is just providing you with notice of a situation. It is possible to reach a resolution with a tenant on a relatively lower cost injury situation. However, the timing of any settlement is important. Settlements that are entered into within 30 days of an injury or last treatment are susceptible to being voided if they are challenged.

Ensuring that there is not an immediate risk to others is a critical first step in addressing a claim of injury on the property. Documenting the condition of the property where the incident took place needs to take place right away before any modifications to the condition of the property are undertaken. Notifying ownership and putting insurance providers for both ownership and management is critical to preserve potential coverage, and should be done promptly after receiving notice of a slip and fall incident. Handling a ‘slip and fall’ incident correctly becomes a matter of preserving evidence and working with the insurance providers to address the claim.

A slip and fall at the property can be a very stressful situation for everyone involved. The party that is injured, the management team, and ownership are all impacted by these events. Being careful to document the conditions and preserve that information will help relieve the stress of the situation. Timely communication with insurance providers and ownership will help provide a path to and reaching a satisfactory resolution and prevent the situation from escalating.

View Resource »