If you’re not careful about preventing tripping hazards on your property, your patients and staff may be at risk of serious injury including broken bones and painful sprains. Moreover, these slips and falls may force you into litigation, which not only can be expensive but also damage your reputation.
Sam Coffey, a partner with Abramowitz, Pomerantz & Coffey, P.A. in Sunrise, Fla., recalls one particular injury case his law firm handled where a patient went to a dialysis facility for dialysis treatment. The patient slipped and fell on some water on the floor, breaking her knee and her shoulder. She was taken to a hospital for management of her fractures and was given so much pain medication that it killed her.
“Under Florida law, the person who causes the initial injury can be responsible for all the damages including wrongful death,” says Coffey. The family filed a wrongful death claim, and the parties involved reached a confidential settlement just hours before jury selection.
Maintain your premises
Reducing the risk to your patients and staff, not to mention yourself, all begins with being more proactive in preventing falls before they occur.
In Florida, for example, the standard is that the defendant needs to do what a reasonable person would do under the circumstances, Coffey explains.
There are two duties: the duty to maintain your premises in a reasonably safe condition and the duty to warn people who come onto your property about any dangerous conditions to which that person doesn’t have greater knowledge.
“For instance, if you have a loose floor board or a wet floor, what would a reasonable person do?” Coffey says. “They would mop up the floor or put a nail in that floor board. The jury would be allowed to assess whether you were negligent in not cleaning up the property. Then the jury has to consider if that negligence caused the person to be injured.”
Coffey says to make sure you’re always maintaining the property and that there is not a dangerous condition present. “If something is on the floor, make sure it’s being cleaned up at reasonable intervals,” he says.
If you’re doing property maintenance on your own, keep appropriate records or better yet, have appropriate contractors in place handling these kinds of issues.
“Make sure they have liability insurance in the event someone trips and falls because of the condition of the property they should have cleaned up,” Coffey says. “If a claim is then made against you as the manager of the property, then you may be able to make a claim against the insurance company of the cleaning company to indemnify or defend your company for their negligence.”
Dr. Mary Capelli-Schellpfeffer, medical director of Loyola University Health System Occupational Health Services, suggests alerting your staff to hazardous areas where falls may be more likely to occur.
These include foyer and lobby areas or places where flooring surfaces change, such as at doorways, curbs, stairways, elevators, parking ramps and other high “people movement” paths.
Capelli-Schellpfeffer also recommends using signage. “Caution signs in bright colors can warn employees and customers about spots that may be slippery,” she adds.
Always have a plan in place and make sure that your employees know how to respond should a fall occur.
“Priority should be placed on identifying first responders who can assist a fall victim,” says Capelli-Schellpfeffer. “Training should also include how to redirect employees or patients passage and traffic when first aid or emergency care is underway.”
If your practice uses a special telephone code to call 9-1-1 dispatchers, include this information in new employee orientation and during regular safety meetings.
Coffey says a risk management plan should also have in place an incidence report to document the injury and take down the viable information such as the date of the incidence, location, and weather conditions. You should also have space available for the injured person to describe in their own words how the accident occurred.
“If people feel they were injured and the property owner tried to help them out, it could minimize the potential of a lawsuit,” says Coffey. “Also, report claims to your insurance company immediately.”
A winter storm or even heavy rains arriving immediately before your practice is opens for the day is a real threat.
“Ideally a company’s outdoor and public access spaces will always be well-shoveled and salted,” says Capelli-Schellpfeffer.
But sometimes the shovels and de-icers can’t move fast enough to keep up with the weather. If specific walkways or parking lots are unmanageable, Capelli-Schellpfeffer recommends consider closing off access and redirecting people toward safer locations.
Overlooked tripping hazards
While you may do your best to make sure your floor is dry or there are no loose floor boards, there are some common overlooked areas that present a tripping hazard for your employees and patients.
The mis-elevation between one floor level and another is often a cause for trips. “A change of elevation as much as 3/4 of an inch can be a tripping hazard for some people,” says Coffey. “In fact, in some states, you may be in building code violation. An injured party can claim that the violation is something that could have been repaired years ago.”
Coffey says to examine the door mats or carpeting around the doorways. Are any of them turned up or folded in a way that can trip up a patient. Another overlooked area are elevators. Some elevator floors are not aligned at the same level as the floor when you exit or enter the elevator. Again, these are situations where it could be a building code violation.