CHICAGO — When a customer slips and falls on a Laundromat’s damp floor, or a person is assaulted in the store’s dimly lit parking lot after dark, the business could be liable for any injury or damage caused.
But many liability claims can be easily prevented by applying common sense and having a “safety first” mindset.
To help you limit your exposure to such claims, American Coin-Op polled representatives from some of the industry’s major insurance providers about managing the greatest areas of risk in and around the average vended laundry.
Q: How can the presence of a surveillance or security system aid a store owner when a liability issue is raised?
Ann Hawkins, vice president, Underwriting & Sales, NIE, St. Louis: If the system is on and working, and if the insured saves that video for two years, then it is invaluable. It can prove what happened and how it happened. Many owners only keep their tapes and videos for a short period of time. The reason for the two years is that is the length of the statute of limitations to file a lawsuit in most states. Often, the claimant will seek counsel from an attorney right away and the attorney will advise them to wait to sue until just before the statute runs. By then, things are forgotten by the owner and the videos or tapes are gone – better chance for his client to recover a tidy sum.
Larry Larsen, agent for Crusader Insurance Co., Woodland Hills, Calif.: Security cameras can provide excellent details on a liability claim. They help prevent fraudulent claims and are often requested by law enforcement in the event of crimes committed in your Laundromat. The price of security cameras has declined so much that high-quality systems can be purchased for less than a thousand dollars. Evidence and protection make installing a camera system the proper move for Laundromat owners.
Adam Weber, president, Irving Weber Associates (IWA), Smithtown, N.Y.: Surveillance and/or security systems can benefit the store owner when a liability issue is raised, as the films can be used to review the possibility of insurance fraud, where a claimant has inaccurately described the event in such a way as to place negligence on the storeowner, where, perhaps the storeowner is not negligent. Surveillance and/or security systems can also aid in deterring criminal acts as well as aid in identifying criminals, such as burglars.
Q: Once it’s apparent that the store owner needs to file an insurance claim for their business, what actions should they take to do that?
Larsen: Gather your information, and collect your security tapes and witness information. If pictures can tell the story better than words, take pictures. When you have put everything together, call your agent and provide the details of the claim.
Weber: Assess the situation and contact emergency services if necessary, reporting to law enforcement if a crime is suspected. If warranted, take pictures showing the area where the incident occurred. Secure the premises, to avoid further damage and keep the public safe. Contact your insurance professional, agent and/or carrier, providing all details of the incident, including data that will support your claim; be sure to get the claim number and name of who took the claim report. Once assigned a claim number, make note of the insurance adjuster assigned to the claim so you can follow up.
Hawkins: Just call your insurance company as soon as possible regardless of the condition of the injured person. You may think it seems like nothing, but nothing can turn into something big overnight. You should take pictures of the area where the person was injured, and don’t change anything from the way it looked at the time of injury. After the area has been memorialized by photos, you should make it safe so that no one else has the same problem. If the injury is caused by a piece of furniture, do not get rid of that furniture but store it someplace as evidence. Often, the injury could be the fault of the furniture manufacturer.
Q: What’s the most common mistake or mistakes that you see vended laundry owners make when it comes to handling common liability claims?
Weber: A store owner can make mistakes when filing a claim, which is why it is important to work closely with your insurance professional, who is familiar with the process.
Common mistakes can include failing to contact the insurance company immediately, or failing to properly document the incident. Store owners should get as much information as possible about the incident from both the claimant and witnesses to the incident, which may include employees as well as bystanders.
It is also important the store owner have a good understanding of their business insurance policy, which may include perils and exclusions that are unclear. Therefore, business owners should fully understand their coverage before an incident occurs.
Hawkins: Don’t express guilt, and do not offer the injured person money. Calling an ambulance is the best thing you can do. If the person refuses the ambulance, then let them take care of what they are going to do. Do not touch them or move them, and do not offer more than a bandage; let them put the bandage on. You may feel quite sorry for them but do not verbally express it. Call your insurance company as soon as the person leaves your premises.
Larsen: Owners sometimes fail to take a potential liability claim seriously. If you believe an incident has occurred, either inside or outside your Laundromat, take the steps to gather names, phone numbers, statements, pictures and/or videotapes. Don’t pre-judge the validity of a claim. Contemporaneously gathered information is often the best information. People have a year to make a claim or file a lawsuit. Always retain any information or evidence you have gathered for at least two years.
Q: What general advice about liability claims can you offer a vended laundry owner?
Hawkins: Have pride in your business just as you do in your home. If you do have a liability claim, it’s not the end of the world. That’s why you buy insurance. But too many liability claims can trigger cancellation and make your insurance company think something is not right, so be cautious and aware at all times.
Weber: Be sure that your umbrella liability policy is put on notice at the same time as your general liability policy.
Larsen: Spend a little time assessing your Laundromat to decrease potential claims. Remember that most insurance policies do not extend coverage to claims of violations of the American with Disabilities Act. Check with an ADA specialist to ensure you’re not involved in a claim not covered by your insurance policy. A dash of prevention is worth a pound of liability claims distress.