In the absence of clear-cut standards of behavior, what can a self-storage operator do to defend against slip-and-fall liability? In the context of discovering a hazardous transitory foreign substance, he may exercise reasonable care by inspecting the premises to identify and remedy any dangerous conditions. However, the extent to which the premises must be inspected depends on the particular facts and circumstances.
For example, reasonable care demands more frequent inspections of the common areas during periods of elevated activity. Similarly, areas within the facility that experience increased traffic, such as the office, should also receive increased scrutiny.
There are also other factors that may help define the extent to which the premises must be inspected. Is there a tenant with a history of handling slippery substances or not cleaning up after himself? Is there a particular time of day or year when the facility is more likely to be left in disarray? Is there an area that accumulates water or other transitory foreign substances? Answering these questions could reveal previously unidentified risks.
After considering conditions unique to your facility, including any relevant history and experience, you can make some conclusions on what’s reasonable. For example, would a jury agree it was reasonable to inspect the common areas, such as the office or parking lot, twice a day or twice a month? Was it reasonable to conclude that an area with a history of flooding did not require additional inspections after a rainstorm? Was it reasonable to not require additional inspections of the area next to units occupied by tenants who routinely work on their cars?
While undertaking this secondary level of analysis will not guarantee protection against slip-and-fall liability, it can assist in the development of inspection-related policies and procedures geared toward protecting tenants and guests from any hazardous conditions which should’ve been discovered by exercising reasonable care.
Finally, once you have inspection-related policies and procedures in place, including those recommended by your attorney or required by applicable law, you need to communicate them to your staff. Supervisors must remain attentive to ensure the policies and procedures are strictly followed and documented. Employees should know their failure to follow these policies and procedures could result in disciplinary action.
Though often overlooked, self-storage facilities have a duty to exercise reasonable care to discover dangerous conditions before an injury occurs. It’s in precisely this circumstance that many operators find they’ve failed in their duty and, consequently, land in a courtroom. Those who fail to understand and adhere to this duty before a slip-and-fall occurs, may have to endure the unfortunate experience of having a jury decide what was overlooked afterward.
Anita Setnor Byer is president of Setnor Byer Insurance & Risk and founder of The Human Equation, a risk-management and human-resources enterprise providing online training and solutions. She has served as an independent consultant and risk-management advisor since 1997, and has authored numerous publications and training content in risk-management and human resources. To reach her, call 888.253.8498; e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org .