As an experienced safety consultant, I’m called to investigate a wide range of premises liability incidents. One common premises incident that often results in serious injury is a trip or a fall.
Look in any average parking lot and you’re bound to see at least one avoidable tripping hazard. One reliable trouble spot is displaced wheel stops. When properly placed and maintained, wheels stops keep vehicles off of buildings, sidewalks and landscaping. Unfortunately, these objects often migrate from their intended location or are not correctly placed from the get-go.
Recently, I investigated a case in which a woman encountered a fellow resident and her dog leaving an apartment building. In the process of the interaction, the woman tripped over a wheel stop that had been placed in a handicap-accessible parking place near the entrance to the apartment building. This wheel stop, however, was doubly troublesome. First, the wheel stop had migrated into the handicap access aisle walkway. In addition, the wheel stop protruded into the walkway of the parking spot.
ASTM guidelines for safe walking surfaces state quite plainly that parking lots should be designed to avoid the use of wheel stops. As we don’t live in a perfect world, the same guidelines also state where and how wheel stops can safely be used. In this case, the apartment community used wheel stops inconsistently. Several of the wheel stops in the parking lot were off center or angled — a clear sign of neglect and an overall failure to maintain them.
The property owner or manager should have known about the defective condition to which all residents were being exposed on a daily basis. It’s reasonable to expect that multiple residents will come into contact with each other in the entrance of building that many families call home.
This incident wasn’t caused by either resident’s actions, or even the pet. The fall could have easily been prevented if the apartment complex’s management had adhered to recognized safety standards by inspecting their property with an interest in preventing pedestrian falls. The management of the apartment complex failed to provide a safe pedestrian walkway where one was expected by the nature of the environment.
J. Steven Hunt, CPCU, ARM, is president and senior safety consultant at Warren. Steve, who specializes in premises liability incidents, construction falls and safety management programs, has achieved the designation of Associate Risk Management and Chartered Property and Liability Underwriter from Insurance Institute of America, Chicago, IL. Steve has investigated more than 1,000 accidents in his more than 35-year career, including 33 cases involving fatalities. He holds a Bachelor of Science in Administrative Management with a Minor in Occupational Safety and Health from Clemson University.