“Ma’am, we’d like to speak to the manager.” This is every restaurateur’s least favorite sentence. Best case scenario, the customer is unhappy with the meal. But what about the worst case scenario? What do you do when someone has been injured, and they are looking to your restaurant to make them whole? The following is a short list of best practices that help make your defense as strong as possible, as told from the perspective of an experienced premises liability trial lawyer:
- Document the Right Way
Take pictures of everything—except for the person who was injured. Document the conditions at the scene, whether or not there was a visible hazard, such as a wet floor, as well as whether warning signs were present. Was it raining outside? Take a picture. These photos can be quickly and unobtrusively snapped by a manager with minimal fuss while another employee checks on the customer, and will reduce uncertainty in handling the claim. But be careful! Taking pictures of the injured person can be seen as insensitive, and those photos will come out in discovery. Document the scene, not the person.
- Get Signatures!
Many facilities take statements from witnesses and involved parties, but then record only a short summary of what was said. Always have a witness sign off on a written statement—whether they wrote it themselves or not—so that their story cannot change later on.
- Do Assist. Do Not Admit Fault.
Many claims can be handled without ever resorting to insurance or the legal process. An apology that a customer had a less than satisfactory experience is always appreciated, and the right situation can be defused with the offer of a comped meal or gift card. Never admit wrongdoing. Being sorry that someone was less than satisfied has no legal significance. Being recorded by a bystander while admitting that a hazard was known to be present does.
- Signs Are Only Effective When They Are Unusual
Some facilities leave wet floor signs up 24-7. Courts have ruled these signs become mere furniture with no ability to warn and no protective legal significance. If the floor is being mopped, always put out a sign. If it is raining, always put out a sign. If there is no need for the sign, take it down and preserve the sign’s power to protect you.
These are just a handful of the many best practices restaurants and other facilities can follow to minimize their exposure after a claim comes in. If you have specific questions or scenarios that you’ve always wondered about, please feel free to comment or email and we’ll be happy to take them up in a subsequent post.