Let’s say a tenant slips on a wet floor at your self-storage facility and injures his back. What’s the first thing you should do? Call your lawyer? Pretend like it didn’t happen? Panic?
None of the above, actually. When someone gets hurt at a self-storage facility, the owner’s or manager’s first step should be to ensure the injured person receives adequate care.
“Go up to the person and see if they are OK,” said Jonathan Stein, a consumer law attorney in Elk Grove, CA. “Ninety-nine percent of businesses don’t do that.”
A simple safeguard
Most business owners are reluctant to take this step because they think it’ll boost the chances that they’ll be sued and be held responsible for legal damages. In fact, checking on the injured person’s welfare makes it less likely that you’ll be taken to court.
“I get calls from people who say, ‘If they would have just come and checked on me, I wouldn’t have called an attorney,’” Stein said.
Remember, you don’t have to admit fault when you check on someone who’s been injured at your facility. After doing so, your next step should be to determine the cause of the injury and what you can do to prevent a similar incident from happening at your facility.
Checking for hazards
Owners of self-storage businesses typically are focused on occupancy and related concerns, but it’s also important to provide a safe environment for customers and employees. Here are five tips for creating that sort of environment:
- Remove objects or debris left in walkways, driveways or other areas.
- Check your indoor and outdoor lighting regularly to make sure people can see where they’re going.
- Inspect your parking lot for such hazards as raised asphalt and potholes.
- Avoid trips and slips by repairing torn carpeting and uneven flooring in your office.
- If your facility has a faulty stairway, get it fixed.
If you’re ever sued for liability following an injury, the opposing attorney will try to prove you were negligent. For example, if you allowed several days to pass without eliminating a hazard in your parking lot, an attorney could argue that you were careless. If building codes require that you install a handrail along a stairway but you fail to do so, an attorney could argue that an injury on those stairs is your responsibility.
Getting liability insurance
Adequate commercial liability insurance should be in place before you open for business. If you wait until someone falls or trips, it’ll be too late to protect yourself from financial harm. You can include a release of liability in your rental agreements to discourage injury claims, but there’s no guarantee that you won’t be taken to court anyway, Stein said.
“The best thing you can do to protect yourself as a business owner is to make sure you have the right insurance,” said Karl Newman, president of the NW Insurance Council trade group in Seattle, WA. “This includes insurance for the business property and your general liability.”
Everyone who owns a self-storage facility needs general liability coverage, New Jersey insurance agent Kevin Foley said. That’s because you can be held legally responsible for the safety of everybody who enters your facility, including your own employees.
Liability coverage protects you against property damage and bodily injury claims, Foley said. “If something falls off the roof and damages a car, general liability insurance will pay the claim,” he said.
Such a policy also will pay for your legal defense, up to your policy limits.
How much coverage is enough?
Foley said determining how much coverage your facility needs isn’t an exact science. He tells clients they should have enough coverage to let them sleep comfortably at night.
Stein recommends that a self-storage facility carry at least $1 million in coverage. “That will handle 90 percent of all lawsuits,” he said.