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Expert Column: Reduce Risky Business


Recently, I was putting some club soda in my grocery cart when the bottle slipped from my hands and crashed to the floor. Naturally, I let someone know right away. Within a minute, a "Caution: Wet Floor" sign was up and the spilled liquid was being mopped. Crisis averted.

But there isn't always a risk management professional on the scene when things spill, which means slip-and-fall hazards might not always get cleaned up immediately. And that means people can trip and hurt themselves.

Of course, there are other hazards in a grocery store, too.

The good news is that a careful risk management plan that includes appropriate insurance policies can prevent an unmopped puddle from turning into an expensive liability lawsuit.

Spot the Risk and Cover It

To a shopper, a grocery store may look like a fairly benign place, but store owners know that there are risks in every aisle. Luckily, most of the risks that threaten your business' viability can be managed with business insurance. Here's a look at some of the biggest worries for grocery stores and how the proper policy can help:

  • Customer injury. Trips, slips, collisions with runaway carts -- there are dozens of ways for shoppers to get hurt in your store. General liability (GL) insurance keeps everyone safe in a few ways: It covers immediate expenses like transporting a hurt customer in an ambulance, and it pays for longer-term expenses like the legal fees that arise if the hurt party sues you for causing the incident. A GL policy is the starting point for most business insurance plans.
  • Food poisoning or recall. Depending on the circumstances behind a food recall, your store could be named in a liability lawsuit. If you find yourself named in such a suit, the completed products coverage offered by many general liability policies will likely fund your defense, along with any settlements or judgments you have to pay.
  • Worker injury. Stocking shelves, unloading trucks, cleaning spills, and repeating checkout motions over and over can cause a variety of worker injuries. Workers' compensation insurance, which is legally mandated in 49 states (Texas is the exception), can cover the costs of medical treatments. Because workers' comp is required by law in most of the country, store owners can face steep fines for failing to carry this coverage.
  • Employment practices violations. Just this summer, a lawsuit against Northeast grocery chain Price Chopper was filed by a former employee who alleged the chain failed to pay overtime properly -- a wage and hour violation. This and other allegations of employment practice violations (e.g., charges of discrimination, retribution or improper firing) mean costly legal bills for the company named, regardless of the outcome of the case. Employment practices liability insurance is designed to cover a business when it's named in such a case.
  • Wind, theft, floods and other property damage. Inventory is the lifeblood of any retail business. This is even truer for grocers, whose inventory is highly perishable. Commercial property insurance offers protection for grocery stores and their wares when natural disasters and other unforeseen circumstances damage stores and the food inside.

Don't Settle for Off-the-shelf Insurance

You know all too well that every product on the market comes in dozens of varieties. Business insurance is no exception. Any time you're looking to update coverage or purchase a new policy, be sure to talk with an agent who has experience covering businesses in your industry. Depending on the specifics of your business, you may require special exclusions or endorsements to ensure your policy actually covers the risks you face.

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