The Importance of Incident Reports in Premises Liability Claims

Completing an incident report is a must! Consider the old adage... "If it's not in writing, it never happened."

In addition to documenting that an incident did, indeed, happen, a well-drafted report on a well-designed form can remind even new, forgetful, or busy employees to note certain details they may otherwise ignore, to take photographs, to check CCTV footage, and to ensure proper documentation of that incident. In addition, reviewing a report they completed years ago can refresh the memory of an employee who has forgotten the details of an incident. 

If you have a policy to complete an incident report for ALL incidents, even when the customer refuses to provide his name or contact information, even when the customer says he is fine and unhurt, and even when it is clear that the premises owner is not possibly at fault in any way, then even the LACK of any incident report can be very helpful because it means the customer never reported the incident, likely because it never happened or it was very minor and caused no injury.

Incident report are extremely important for combating later fabrications by a customer, who could file suit any time up to three years after the incident took place on your premises. By that time, all involved employees could have completely forgotten the incident, especially if it was much more minor than the customer may be claiming. Or the involved employees could now be former employees, and the premises owner might be unable to contact them. 

Things to consider when creating an incident report form include:

Who is completing the form? It is always preferable for a manager/supervisor to handle completing the incident report. This ensures that a manager will be quickly notified of any incidents as well as adding an additional witness to the alleged hazard and the plaintiff’s condition and complaints. Managers also tend to have lower turnover rates and, therefore, will be more concerned about accurately and completely filling out the form as well as being less costly to train.

What information should the form require?—This will vary depending on the nature of the business.  Typically a form should include at least the following:

• Customer’s name, contact information,  and date of birth
• Incident time, date, and specific location
• Description of the alleged incident and the alleged hazardous condition
(Written by the customer if possible)
• Identity and contact information of any/all witnesses
• All employees involved in responding to or documenting the incident
• How the incident occurred.
• Any complaints/injuries the customer reports
• Whether pictures were taken and by whom

Due to the recently Lowrey case, it would be helpful for an incident report to also document the last recent inspection of the area.

If you are not sure where your premises fits with respect to the above, or what type of information should be included in an incident report for your business, talk to your attorney to discuss your business’ unique needs and situation. 

Your attorney should be able to assist with creating an incident report form or editing/amending the form you currently have. You should also consider discussing with your attorney whether it might be advantageous for him or her to meet with your managers during your next regular meeting to provide training or merely give a refresher course on helpful things to look for or document on the incident report during an incident.

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