Controlling Liability Risks pt. 2

Controlling Liability Risks pt. 2

Controlling Law Firm Risks

Controlling liability risks for your law firm is vital to ensure you avoid unnecessary claims and litigation. You may find extensive and specific information on reducing liability risk exposures from your insurance company, trade association, and the Internet for almost any type of venture. Briefly discussed here are some areas of concern that apply to many types of business. They include:
  • Slip and Fall Accidents
  • Employment Practices Liability
  • Hiring Practices and Liability Avoidance
Slip and Fall Accidents – These are one of the most common liability risks. Thousands of people are injured every year—some very seriously—in slip and fall accidents on business premises.
Employee training is critical to controlling liability risks. All employees who are likely to be around third parties on your premises should be trained about what to do should someone suffer a fall. Medical care should be quickly provided to the injured person, even if that means calling an ambulance. People who feel they were treated callously or indifferently are more likely to sue.
Elimination of slip and fall hazards should be a periodic scheduled activity. It may be helpful to use a checklist for this. Considerations for indoor areas include:
  • Lighting:  All areas should be adequately lighted, including hallways and stairs.
  • Exits:  Exits should be well marked, well lighted, and clear of obstacles.
  • Stairs:  Handrails, steps, and landings should be in good condition. Stair treads should be constructed of uniform height and width.
  • Housekeeping:  General housekeeping should be maintained, and storage areas kept neat.
  • Carpeting:  Carpeting should be tight and smooth.
  • Floors:  Any changes in floor level should be clearly marked.
  • Doormats:  Doormats should be flat, slip-resistant, cleaned, and checked regularly in bad weather.
  • Spills:  There should be an effective procedure to ensure that all spills are immediately cleaned up.
Considerations for outdoor areas include:
  • Walkways:  Walkways should be kept in good condition.
  • Lighting:  Lighting should be adequate.
  • Parking lot:  Potholes, cracks, or uneven areas should be repaired.
  • Ice and snow:  There should be an effective procedure for assuring ice and snow are removed.
If there are treacherous areas—such as an uneven area of the sidewalk or a ripped carpet—consider marking them as such, using signs to warn people away, and putting up barriers around them.
Employment Practices Liability – Federal law restricts employment decisions based on race and national origin, religion and creed, gender, age, and disability. The restrictions on race, religion, gender, and disability apply to businesses with 15 or more employees. The restrictions on age apply to businesses with 20 or more employees. An employee who feels discriminated against might sue to make such charges as extreme emotional distress or wrongful termination. It is not a defense in such cases to say you didn’t know your actions were unlawful.
Larger employers typically provide formal training to management and employees on compliance with civil rights laws. As a smaller organization, you may feel you cannot afford such programs’ time or money. There are many lower-cost ways of carrying out this training. For one, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has low-cost materials just for small businesses.
Hiring Practices and Liability Avoidance – Immature, careless, and irresponsible people are much more likely to engage in risky behaviors—from reckless driving to sexual harassment, cutting corners on safety rules, and stealing from their employers. Similarly, people who have drug and alcohol addictions are liable to present a variety of workplace dangers. The first step in cutting down on your liability exposure is to be as careful and thorough as possible about whom you hire. Failure to use a reasonable screening process for new hires could even expose you to negligent hiring liability.
Clear job descriptions and workplace rules, disseminated to all employees, and applied consistently and without favoritism, can be a tremendous help in minimizing the risk of unacceptable behavior.
Risk Management for Information Technology: The greater the role that computers, the Internet, and e-commerce play in your business, the more exposure you have to property and liability risks involving information technology.
The digitally stored information is subject to many of the same risks as any other property (fire, flood, tornado, etc.) as well as special risks (computer viruses, malicious hackers, etc.). To prevent the loss of your accounts receivables, customer orders, client records, or other such data, you should regularly back up the data and store the backup copies in a separate, secure location. Prevent data loss or corruption by viruses and hackers by keeping up-to-date antivirus software and firewalls on all your business computers.
If you rely on a Web site, either you or your Web site host should back up all critical material at least daily. To assure your Web site doesn’t go down, a real-time “mirror image” of all your site data should be maintained so that it can be transferred immediately if the original site crashes for any reason.
Digital technology also presents liability risks. You could be sued if a breach of your security and sensitive information about others is exposed or stolen. Make sure you use reputable vendors. You could face a lawsuit claiming that your Web site uses another’s copyrighted material or slanders someone. Some measures that could help control these risks include:
  • Using a “security seal” from a reputable security certification organization to encrypt data
  • Posting a formal privacy policy
  • Having your legal counsel approve your Web site content and your privacy statement
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