Home Business How Business Owners Can Protect Themselves from PI Liability

How Business Owners Can Protect Themselves from PI Liability

by Olufisayo
Personal Injury Liability

Today’s business owners are, no matter their trade or field, faced with innumerable potential liabilities related to the unique contours of their particular line of business.  For example, an online retailer in today’s world likely has, at the very top of its list of potential liabilities, the issue of data security.  An online retailer’s negligent failure to protect its customers’ personal information, which it must store on its servers in order to conduct its business, can result in catastrophic damage to its reputation, as well as nearly unlimited legal liability if customer information is used or sold by fraudsters and hackers in the open market.

While there are countless more examples of business-specific liabilities that may not universally apply to business owners around the United States, one liability that applies to every business owner is the potential for personal injury accident liability.  Personal injury accidents – whether involving car accidents or truck accidents with company vehicles, trip and fall or slip and fall accidents on company property, or serious injuries suffered by construction workers on a project owned or operated by the company – can result in enormous personal injury accident liability for any business.  Liability for personal injury accidents can also result when business owners enter into contracts containing indemnity clauses which may shift liability for injuries caused by worker negligence directly on to the business.  Business owners will be relieved to know that their own employees cannot sue them for negligence, so long as the business maintains adequate workers’ compensation insurance which will compensate their employees for injuries suffered on the job.

In this article, I will review several examples of common liability-creating personal injury accident situations that, under the personal injury laws of New York, can create significant personal injury exposure for business owners, and explain some steps that can be taken to minimize exposure to these risks, which are inherent in doing business.  As a New York personal injury lawyer, I can tell you that I have seen countless cases in which these issues arise; and have a unique perspective that I will share with you so that you can protect yourself and your business from exposure if you do business in New York and may be subject to New York personal injury accident liability.

Personal Injury Liability

Personal Injury Liability for Car Accidents or Truck Accidents

Under New York law, a business can be held liable in car accident lawsuit or a truck accident lawsuit in two important ways.  In either of these situations, the business will be potentially responsible to pay for the full amount of damages caused in the car accident or truck accident, even if the business itself was not truly negligent in causing the accident.   In the case of very serious accidents involving millions of dollars in damages, these serious car accidents and truck accidents can expose a business – especially a small business – to liability that can threaten it with bankruptcy unless steps are taken to protect the business from exposure.

First, if a car or truck owned by the business is involved in an accident, the business will, in most circumstances, be held legally responsible for any personal injuries suffered by third parties in the car accident or truck accident.  In New York, this derives from a statute (a legal term for “a law”) known as New York Vehicle and Traffic Law Section 388.  This important law provides that the owner of any vehicle involved in a car accident or a truck accident is “vicariously” liable if anyone driving the particular vehicle (apart from a thief, who may have stolen the vehicle) is negligent and causes a personal injury accident on the road.  In New York, if a company vehicle is involved in an accident, the company is likely to be held responsible for the accident if the driver of the company vehicle was at all negligent in causing the accident.

Another way in which New York law holds businesses responsible for car accidents and truck accidents is through the doctrine of “respondeat superior”, a legal term that means, in plain English, that a business is responsible for any harm caused by the negligence of its employees who are acting in the course of their employment and in furtherance of the business of their employer when they are involved in a personal injury accident.  If an employee is negligent and causes an accident, the business will be held responsible for the full amount of damages caused by its employees’ negligence in causing a car accident or truck accident under most circumstances.

The best way for business owners to protect against exposure for personal injury liability involving car accidents or truck accidents involve purchasing the proper type of insurance, as well as ensuring that proper background check and training programs for employees who may operate motor vehicles in connection with their work are in place.  One secret of personal injury law is that, in most cases, a personal injury lawyer will be willing to settle an accident lawsuit for the limits of an applicable insurance policy, so long as the limit is reasonably high enough to compensate any injured persons for damages caused in the accident.  Automobile accidents involving personal injuries are a fact of life, and by definition nobody ever intends to commit negligence.  That is why it is important to be properly insured, and to try to limit access to company vehicles to employees who are properly trained and who do not have a history of causing serious personal injury accidents on the road.   Obviously there are many more ways to protect your business against exposure for personal injury accident liability; but these two examples will generally provide solid protection of your business so that you can focus on running your business in a successful manner, rather than worrying about paying a personal injury settlement.

Personal Injury Liability for Trip-And-Fall or Slip-And-Fall Accidents on Company Property

Companies doing business in New York can be held responsible if someone trips or slips and falls on company property if the accident is caused by a dangerous condition on company property of which the business was aware, or should have been aware through the exercise of reasonable care and diligence.  For example, if, in a company warehouse, there exists a tile floor from which several tiles are missing (and have been for a long time), and a third-party delivery person comes along and trips over the cracked tiles and is injured (say, by suffering a broken arm), the business will be on the hook to compensate the injured delivery person for his or her injuries.  Another example might be a situation where a leaky pipe has, for weeks, been leaking water onto that same tile floor, and the same third-party delivery person comes along and slips on the leaking water and is badly hurt (say, by suffering a spinal injury involving a herniated disc).

Apart from maintaining sufficient liability insurance on all company properties, the best thing that a business owner can do to guard against liability for trip and fall or slip and fall accidents on company property is to establish a set of cleaning and inspection protocols, and require that those charged with inspecting or cleaning company property create periodic inspection logs to document when cleanings and inspections are done, and the particulars of what is observed when cleanings or inspections are performed.  If dangerous conditions are observed, they should be fixed immediately, and warnings of the dangerous condition should be posted or the area closed off until the dangerous condition is fixed.  This way, the business will have documents to rely on to demonstrate that it had no notice of a dangerous condition if a personal injury accident such as a trip and fall or slip and fall does occur.  If an injured person cannot prove that the business had notice, or should have had notice, of the dangerous condition, the business will not be held liable for the accident, no matter how serious the injured person’s injuries may have been.

Personal Injury Liability for Construction Accidents on Company Property

New York businesses can be exposed to personal injury accident liability where construction workers are injured during construction projects that are ongoing on a property owned by the business.  Businesses who contract to actually perform construction work – say, by serving as a general contractor on a construction job – can, quite obviously, be held liable for construction accident injuries, as they are directly involved in overseeing the project.  However, business owners might be surprised to learn that, at least in New York, their businesses can be held liable for construction injuries on properties that the business owns even if the business has nothing to do with the day-to-day operations of the construction jobs.  This is because, in New York, the New York Labor Law places the burden on the property owner (as well as on the general contractor hired by the owner) to ensure that safety rules are enforced, and holds them responsible for construction accidents and worker injuries if these rules are not strictly followed and injuries result.

The best way to protect against exposure for the business incident to construction injuries, apart from purchasing special insurance specifically designed to cover the business against construction injuries (most general liability policies will not provide this type of coverage, so make sure to purchase construction liability insurance if your company is undertaking a construction project on one of the company’s properties) is to hire contractors with stellar safety records who employ union workers who are experts in construction and who are trained in safe execution of construction projects.  While the significantly-lower up-front costs of hiring non-union workers or smaller contractors may seem enticing, damages for construction injuries can be astronomical, and hiring quality contractors and workers can reduce the risk to your business of exposure to construction injury lawsuits.  Also, your business should make sure that the contractors on the job have daily safety meetings to educate them about compliance with the applicable construction safety rules.  Enforcing a strict zero-tolerance policy for compliance with these safety rules among workers, as well as hiring a site safety professional to oversee job site safety, may also prove to be worthwhile investments and can help limit your company’s exposure to construction injury lawsuits.

How You Can Learn More about Protecting Your Business from Personal Injury Liability Exposure

Jesse Minc is a personal injury lawyer in the Bronx and New York City. To learn more about how you can protect your business from exposure, you may visit his website at www.personalinjurylawyersbronx.com, where he explains in further detail many of the concepts discussed in this article.

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