No Valid Excuse for Negligence


Lawsuit for negligence

If you are prepared for emergencies at home, and have a survival kit at work and at least one in the car – Congratulations!

(I don’t think you’d be reading this if you didn’t have at least some of those kits!)

Now, if you are a business owner, manager, or business board member, I don’t make the same preparedness assumptions. In fact, my assumption based on national statistics is that you are NOT prepared for a workplace emergency!

Today, having no plan might be considered negligence!

The word for the unprepared business owner is — Watch out!

Joe and I just finished putting finishing touches on the fourth book of our Disaster Survival Guide Series. This book is aimed at owners and employees in small businesses (or larger ones, for that matter).

One thing that pops out of is that the list of threats for family preparedness is nowhere near as long as the list of threats for business. Our list of threats for families has something like 59 items on it. Our current list of threats for businesses has reached 83!

And as I added a couple more items to the business list, I knew I wanted to get some information out to you today. It can’t wait until the book is published!

This Advisory isn’t the whole story, of course, but I hope it will at least start you thinking about the . . .

You run the risk of being sued for not having a plan.

One thing we have found out about small business owners — they know their businesses better than anyone. They also are often short on money and time and suspicious of “experts” telling them what to do.

These may be some of the reasons that many new businesses delay getting valuable accounting and legal advice. And they postpone planning for emergencies, too. For new businesses, perhaps that’s understandable. But what we know is that the majority of even mature small businesses postpone planning for emergencies!

If an emergency DOES hit, even a new or an established company that survives the disaster could be destroyed by a lawsuit brought after the fact.

Some examples of legal risks associated with preparedness.

You’ll recognize these examples of not-so-rare situations where owners could be sued. Picture yourself . . .

  • You know that an ex-employee has threatened retaliation, but you don’t warn current employees or make any changes to the way people can get into your building. The ex-employee shows up and shoots 3 people before killing himself.
  • It’s common knowledge that the back-up generators for your business are essential – but unreliable. When disaster hits, all equipment shuts down, and a number of employees and customers are injured.
  • Your emergency plan recognizes the risk of flooding at your location, but doesn’t include plans for how to keep dangerous chemicals from contaminating the neighborhood. Hurricane Harvey hits with historic levels of rain and the neighborhood is inundated with contamination from your plant.

All three of these “examples” are taken from actual news reports. I found others describing similar circumstances. (See the P.S. for the outcomes.)

Here’s the negligence argument that applies in all these cases.

“Employers can be considered negligent if they do not take reasonable steps to eliminate or diminish known or reasonably foreseeable risks that could cause harm.”

From our standpoint, this definition has three key concepts:

  1. The employer is liable. As the owner of the business, you are that employer. Senior managers and Board Members could be caught up in this, too.
  2. To protect the company, you need to be aware of known or reasonably foreseeable risks. And,
  3. You must have taken reasonable steps to eliminate or diminish those risks.

Ask yourself: Does your company have an emergency plan? Even with a plan, how well are you positioned right now to protect your business from lawsuits that involve preparedness?

Our book is designed to give you sources to help you determine your potential vulnerabilities and thereby help you avoid them. You can wait to get a copy as soon as it come out (maybe next month?) but I couldn’t wait until then to share some of this vital information with you.

And you shouldn’t wait, either, to make a commitment to emergency preparedness for your business. You can start right now by reviewing a couple of our earlier Advisories.

As always, seek qualified legal advice for your particular questions. We are NOT licensed legal professionals.

Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

P.S. In the three legal “examples” above, each business lost the lawsuit brought against it.

UPDATE as of JULY, 2018 — the book is now available at Amazon. Here’s the direct link: Emergency Preparedness for Small Business.


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