As the claim administrator for Chubb North American Insurance, the General Liability insurance carrier for a large number of Habitat for Humanity affiliates across the country Chubb North American Claims has seen a number of claims arising from ReStore customers who have been injured from conditions inside the store. In some instances large, and often heavy, items are stacked on the ground or on shelves in an unsecure manner. Claims arise when a customer reaches to retrieve an item from the top of a stack or a shelf and either the item the customer reaches for or another item from the stack or shelf falls, injuring the customer. Injuries are often to the head, neck and shoulders, but also include injuries to arms, hips and other body parts as the customer is knocked to the ground. Similar incidents have occurred when heavy items are leaned against walls or shelves, such as doors, windows, headboards, etc., without being secured and fall when a customer attempts to move the items to look at them, or behind them while shopping. Claims even exist for items that have been blown over by the wind through an open door and causing injury to a customer. Such incidents can be avoided by placing heavy items securely on low shelves or on the ground no higher than waist high. Similarly, items that are too large for shelves and must be leaned against a wall should be stored away from windows and doors and should be secured by ropes, chains, bungees or other similar devises and closely supervised at all times.
Other areas in which we see frequent injuries to customers in ReStores are slips and falls. Often an incident occurs when a customer is shopping and slips on a wet floor. Very often the floor becomes wet when new items are brought into a ReStore during the course of the day and transported across an area frequented by shoppers. Incidents have occurred in which dishwashers, laundry machines and air conditioning units are brought into the store and as they are move or tilted, water drains from a pipe that goes unnoticed by the movers. Slips and falls often cause serious injury and can be very costly. It is prudent to bring new merchandise into a ReStore outside the general shopping area. If it is not possible to do so, the path of the new merchandise should be roped off, or at least marked with cones and supervised by a person not moving the item to inspect the area for water or loose debris before opening the area up to shoppers.
Liability for such incidents is often hard to defend and can result in lawsuits filed against the ReStore affiliate. Medical bills for the injured party, attorney’s fees and possibly settlement costs can easily exceed $100,000. In the event an incident happens, ReStore employees or volunteers should quickly assist the injured party, call professional medical help and survey the location of the fall. Notes should be taken as quickly as possible regarding the location of the fall and identify any defects, foreign substances, debris, water, etc., or lack thereof in the area of the fall. Such notes taken at the time of the incident will be helpful later if liability becomes an issue. Steps such as this will help to avoid accidents in a ReStore and help to identify the nature of an incident of something does happen. As Benjamin Franklin said “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”