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: What are the greatest insurance risks in a vended laundry setting, and why?
Ann Hawkins, vice president, Underwriting & Sales, NIE, St. Louis: Besides dryer fires, liability is the greatest risk in a Laundromat. People come and go all day carrying baskets and bundles of laundry, which cause impaired visibility. They are not looking down but straight ahead. If there is anything in their path that shouldn’t be there, you can bet someone will fall on it, in it or over it.
Larry Larsen, agent for Crusader Insurance Co., Woodland Hills, Calif.: The greatest insurance risk related to liability claims is water-related “slip and fall” accidents. The greatest insurance risk related to property damage is fire. Look for damaged ceiling tiles, broken or missing floor tiles, and sharp edges on folding tables. In liability claims, the biggest headache to Laundromat owners is the time spent defending lawsuits and the related stress. It makes sense to engage in business behavior and premises inspection that reduces the risk of liability claims.
Adam Weber, president, Irving Weber Associates (IWA), Smithtown, N.Y.: In no particular order:
Fire is a concern with Laundromats. It is vitally important that lint traps in dryers be maintained and cleaned daily to avoid any mishaps.
Water damage, as well as slip-and-falls from water on floors, is always a concern, so hoses and connections should be inspected and maintained regularly, and spills cleaned up quickly.
Crime/security is a factor as well. Vending machines can hold large amounts of money, which, of course, can increase the risk of burglary. Having the establishment well-lit and attended is vital in maintaining security in and around the Laundromat. Limiting signage in windows will allow for visibility both from inside looking out into the parking area as well as for people (including law enforcement) to be able to see into the establishment. Video surveillance systems help provide a deterrent.
Q: What precautions should a store owner take in the following areas to help prevent accidents before they happen?
Larsen: You have a legal and moral responsibility to provide a safe environment for your Laundromat customers. Lack of lighting, both inside and out, is a potential liability risk that can be avoided by ensuring adequate lighting in both the interior space and exterior common areas. The extra dollars spent on your electrical bill is money well spent in helping you avoid a liability claim. Examples of liability claims related to lighting have included falls and physical attacks in unlighted or inadequately lighted areas.
Hawkins: Replace all burned-out bulbs immediately, and have plenty of lighting throughout the interior and in the restrooms. Also, keep the exterior well-lit throughout the parking area and walkways. If this is not your responsibility, inform your landlord that more exterior lighting is needed when necessary. Just pretend you are a customer and see if the lighting is good enough when you walk around the area. Remember, it is not just your customer who can be injured but anyone walking by. And they can sue you just the same as your customer can.
Weber: Slip-and-falls on even small deposits of water, food or soap are a real issue in Laundromats. To avoid these types of instances, employees need to be on the lookout for these types of spills constantly. Good housekeeping is key to avoid accidents. Placement of rugs and mats at the entrance and exits, along with throughout the Laundromat, is also vital in maintaining a safe environment for both customers and employees. Maintaining the rugs/mats is necessary as well to avoid excessive wear, frays, and upturned edges, which can also cause people to trip and fall.
Hawkins: Wet floors are your responsibility whether you own the building or not, so keep them dry and post “Wet Floor” signs after mopping up spills or cleaning floors. If you are unattended, there may be no one who will clean up a spill, so this may be difficult for you to handle. Posting signs usually doesn’t help in a lawsuit.
Larsen: There is no excuse for not maintaining the floors in your Laundromat. Slipping on water pooled on the floor is preventable by attention to maintenance items. If hoses are leaking, replace them. If customers “oversoap” and allow excess suds to spread to the floor, use floor mats or install ceramic non-slip strips or tile. Purchase non-slip liquid treatments for your vinyl tile floors. Put a little effort into preventing wet floors in your Laundromat and you might save a lot of stress and time in defending a lawsuit.
Hawkins: Make sure stairs are kept in excellent condition with no chips, cracks, broken treads, etc. Keep plenty of lighting on the stairs, and install handrails. If the stairs are leading to a basement, do not allow your customers to access this area. Keep the door leading to the basement locked at all times. Even though your customers don’t use the basement, you still need to keep things in order because repairmen and others may need access to your basement and they, too, could be injured.
Larsen: Proper markings, safety handrails and signage can all be used in protecting against accidents on stairs. Serious injuries, especially to the elderly, can happen on or around stairs. When planning a location for a Laundromat, stores that include stairs should be avoided. If you already have a location that has stairs, mark and illuminate them.
Weber: Any stairway needs to be well-lit, have proper railings and riser heights, be properly painted to indicate caution, or chained or blocked off if no customer access is permitted.
In Part 2 coming Wednesday: More precautions to take, and how to decide if you should file a claim