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Handling Onsite Injuries: A Commonsense Plan for Self-Storage Employees, Tenants and Guests

Personal injuries that occur on the property are an ongoing risk of operating a self-storage business. Planning ahead to address the situation correctly can go a long way toward minimizing the risk of costly claims and lawsuits should an injury occur.

October 28, 2015

6 Min Read
Handling Onsite Injuries: A Commonsense Plan for Self-Storage Employees, Tenants and Guests

By Don Sedlacek

When it comes to running a self-storage business, not all liability exposures are equal. Damaging a customer’s property or incorrectly conducting a lien sale could cost you money, time and aggravation. Mishandling an injury that occurs on your property could cost you all of that and much more. In the case of a severe injury or fatality, future operation may be jeopardized.

There are four important steps to follow if an employee, tenant or guest is injured on your storage site:

  • Address any medical issues.

  • Document the incident.

  • Don’t admit liability.

  • Report the incident to your insurance agent.

Following these steps carefully could mean the difference between a simple insurance claim and an expensive lawsuit.

Medical Assistance

As soon as you witness an injury or one is reported to you, your first response should be to offer medical assistance. If the person is unconscious or has sustained obvious severe injuries, call an ambulance immediately. Wait with the person for the ambulance to arrive and provide as much information as you can about the incident and the person’s identity to the medical personnel.

If the injured person is responsive, offer to call an ambulance. The person may decline, but you need to make the offer. For injuries that don’t require an ambulance, offer to call a family member or friend to drive the person to the hospital emergency room or to an urgent-care facility.

Documentation

Once the immediate medical issues have been addressed, your attention should turn to documenting the incident. This is a critical step in the claim process that must not be overlooked. Your facility incident-report form should list all of the types of information to be collected and reported. If you’re not currently using an incident report or employees aren’t regularly trained in how to use the form correctly, make it a priority to rectify this situation.

Start by collecting personal information from (or about) the injured person and any witnesses including their full name, address and telephone numbers. If non-tenants are involved, record the person’s status, such as guest of a tenant or prospective tenant. Document where on the property the injury took place and what signs of injury were visible on the person. It’s also a good idea to photograph the scene of the incident and any visible injuries.

If the injury occurred as a result of a hazard on the property, take photos before making temporary or final repairs. Provide images and written documentation about any property that may have been damaged in the incident. In addition to still photos, search through security-camera footage to identify and save any video that depicts the incident and injury.

Write out a detailed explanation of the steps taken after the injury—calling an ambulance, offering medical assistance, providing first aid, etc. Include information about the ambulance, the hospital where the person was taken, and any other relevant medical information. Take statements from the injured person and witnesses describing their version of the incident. If possible, ask them to sign and date their statements and attach them to the incident report.

What Not to Say

When someone is injured on your property, it’s only natural to be sympathetic. In fact, expressing sympathy is a good thing. But you must be careful not to cross the line into admitting fault or saying anything that could be construed as a promise to pay for medical treatment or other damages. If the injured party solicits this type of admission, refer him to your insurance agent.

For example, let’s say a tenant comes into your office with a bleeding cut on his hand. He says he cut it on his storage-unit door. Here are contrasting examples of what’s fine to say and statements to be avoided:

  • GOOD: That looks like a serious cut. I’m glad you reported this to me. I would be happy to call an ambulance for you. Would you like me to do that? While we’re waiting, could you tell me where you were when this happened and how it happened?

  • AVOID: I’m sorry you got hurt. Those door latches have sharp metal burrs on them. I keep meaning to have someone fix it, but I just haven’t gotten around to it. Don’t worry. I’ll drive you to the hospital, and we will take care of getting you treated.

Reporting to Your Agent

As soon as possible after addressing any medical requirements or other tasks that require your immediate attention, it’s time to call your insurance agent to report the incident. He’ll want a copy of your completed incident report and all attached statements, photos and video relevant to the event.

Frequently, a business owner will delay notifying his insurance agent or neglect to do it altogether. This could end up being a serious mistake. Remember that your insurance policy contains certain duties regarding the reporting of a loss. Your agent is working for you and your interests. Alerting him to the situation as quickly as possible affords your carrier the opportunity to conduct a thorough investigation, collect the information needed to process the claim and, if necessary, represent your interests in any legal action that may result.

In the case of someone who reports an injury that happened in the past, it’s important to follow the same steps to the extent possible. You’ll need to know the date and time of the injury so you can determine the staff members on duty during the incident and review archived security video, if available.

Risk Management

In addition to taking the proper action after an injury has occurred, it’s equally important to minimize the risk of injuries occurring in the first place. Conducting proper maintenance of doors, gates, walkways, driveways, steps and light fixtures can help to reduce the potential for injury to employees, tenants and guests. Staff should conduct property inspections multiple times each day and note any issues or concerns in the maintenance log.

If a hazard is identified, post warning signs or block off the area with orange safety cones. When maintenance tasks are performed or repairs made, keep detailed written records, which can be used in a legal proceeding to demonstrate the facility made a good-faith effort to maintain the property.

Consult your attorney to ensure your lease agreement includes the appropriate updated language to restrict a tenant’s rights to make claims against the facility in the event of any injury. In addition, have your attorney and insurance agent review contracts between the self-storage facility and contractors working on premises to ensure your risk is minimized and their insurance coverage is in place to address exposures by those performing the work.

Personal injuries that occur on the property are an ongoing risk of operating a self-storage business. Planning ahead to address the situation correctly can go a long way toward minimizing the risk of costly claims and lawsuits should an injury occur.

Don Sedlacek is vice president of claims for Phoenix-based MiniCo Insurance Agency, which provides specialty programs for self-storage businesses in the United States and Canada. For more information, call 800.528.1056; visit www.minico.com.

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