Can a mundane task like purchasing an inkjet cartridge lead to a life-changing injury? Though unlikely, slip and fall injuries at nationwide retailers such as Office Depot happen. When a customer suffers injury on the premises of a national chain store, unique issues of responsibility come into play. A look at these topics may help you obtain fair compensation in the event of a slip and fall injury at a national retailer.
National Retailers: Resources and Responsibilities
Office Depot has been a big player in office supplies for more than three decades. In 2013 the company acquired rival OfficeMax and now owns nearly 20 stores in Indiana plus over a thousand nationwide. In 2020, Office Depot’s corporate parent posted $9.7 billion in revenue with an operating income of $300 million. These resources empower the company to play legal hardball. Corporations at this scale can afford top-notch legal talent and investigators. No amount of legal firepower relieves retailers of their responsibility to ensure customer safety. To reduce the risk of customer injury and resulting lawsuits, companies like Office Depot implement chain-wide safety policies. The federal government’s National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (“NIOSH”) recommendations form a cornerstone for these efforts. The NIOSH handbook for retailers highlights five risk factors:
- Tracked-In Moisture: Indiana is a snow belt state and every retailer must contend with customers tracking snowy residue onto the premises’ floors. NIOSH recommends absorbent entrance mats as the first line of defense. According to the institute, mats must be large enough for several steps to remove residual moisture. Moisture building up on the store’s uncovered floor areas indicates a saturated entrance mat requiring prompt replacement. On rainy days, NIOSH advises providing customers with umbrella bags to contain moisture.
- Hazardous Mats: Ironically, the mats used to reduce the moisture risk can create tripping hazards. Retailers should exercise care in mat selection, choosing mats with a grippy underside and beveled borders. Entrance mats should abut the entrance door without gaps. NIOSH advises discarding mats that develop wrinkles along their edges.
- Inadequate Lighting: Store lighting is an expense, and every business has an incentive to maximize profits. NIOSH urges retailers to guard against merchandise displays that block off adequate lighting for customers.
- Slippery Flooring: Retailers understandably like the look of a clean and polished floor. While shined flooring does indeed create the impression of a well-run store, there can be too much of a good thing. NIOSH advises retailers to follow the standards set by the National Floor Safety Institute (“NFSI”). The NFSI has developed devices to measure the static coefficient of friction for flooring materials and waxes in both wet and dry conditions. NIOSH recommends that stores keep their flooring’s friction coefficient above 0.5 to reduce the risk of slip and fall injuries. Unlike mom-and-pop stores, Office Depot and other national retailers have the financial resources to rigorously measure the safety of their flooring.
- Poorly Arranged Merchandise: NIOSH urges retailers to anticipate the consequences of merchandise display. When retailers block customers’ sightlines with piled merchandise, they hike the risk of patrons colliding and falling. Similarly, store managers should ensure that no items can hook or snag the canes and walkers used by disabled customers.
National retailers should incorporate these practices into their employee handbooks and staff training. When a slip and fall incident happens, two questions arise. First, did the employee handbook comprehensively cover all safety procedures? Second, did the store’s employees diligently follow those procedures? Technology may provide the answers.
Surveillance Footage: Critical Evidence
Office Depot and similar national retailers have the resources to equip their stores with extensive video surveillance. If you suffer an on-premises fall, this video record may answer some vital questions:
- How long was the cause of the fall allowed to persist?
- Is it reasonable to expect that the employees were aware of the hazard?
- Was the store adequately staffed for the customer traffic?
- Were employees following procedure as outlined in the employee manual?
- Did witnesses have a clear view of the fall?
- What assistance — if any — did the store’s staff offer after your fall?
Video surveillance is not foolproof. Systems can fail, and merchandise displays or passing customers may obscure the view at the instant of your fall. Nevertheless, video can serve as compelling evidence for Indiana’s method of awarding compensation.
Comparative Negligence: How Indiana Apportions Damages
Indiana law implements the modified comparative negligence rule for personal injury cases. If you can prove to a judge or jury that the retailer and any agents or subcontractors were at least 50 percent responsible for your injuries, you can collect damages. With at least half of negligence on the retailer’s and/or its agent’s shoulders, the judge or jury then allocates the precise percentage of negligence that should fall on you — the plaintiff — and reduces the damage award by the same proportion. The comparative negligence rule looms over the entire duration of the claim. When cases settle before a trial, attorneys for both sides factor in estimates of how a jury would apportion negligence. Comparative negligence places a premium on thoroughly gathering evidence for your claim.
Evidence Preservation: Vital Steps After a Slip and Fall Injury
In the wake of a fall, appropriate treatment for injuries comes first. If your injury allows, notify the store manager of your fall. If possible, use a smartphone to record the area of the incident. As soon as practical, photograph any cuts, scrapes or contusions. If you believe your injury has serious consequences, discuss your case with an experienced personal injury attorney. While retailers typically retain surveillance video for at least 30 days, your attorney can ensure the preservation of this critical evidence for the duration of the claim process.
Hensley Legal Group: Proven Experience in Your Corner
If you suffer serious injury in an Office Depot or other nationwide store, don’t be intimidated by the company’s size. Take advantage of a free consultation with the Hensley Law Group, PC. We bring two decades of experience to the personal injury arena, and we don’t get paid unless you do. We invite you to contact us today.
NIOSH | Preventing Slips, Trips, and Falls in Wholesale and Retail Trade Establishments