Usually an in-store accident can be smoothed over with a cup of tea and soothing words, but customers who are feeling the pinch may be tempted to take things further and make an injury claim, warn experts.

"During recession certain types of claims tend to increase," says SME Insurance Services spokesman Stuart Knowles. "People are becoming more litigious and may look to recover damages in the event of even a fairly trivial incident. This is made easier because there are firms specialising in giving legal support on a 'no win, no fee' basis advertising widely on TV.

"Shop owners may face an increase in malicious claims ranging from a simple increase in opportunistic claims or, at worst, premeditated actions to stage slips and trips." 

Day tripper

Costcutter retailer Paul Cheema, who is based in Coventry, has had the misfortune of experiencing such an ordeal. "One Friday a lady tripped up on a pothole outside the store and crashed into some trolleys. The first we heard about it was on Monday evening when she came into the store and told us she'd missed dancing classes because she'd hurt her leg.

"She put in a claim for discomfort and missed dancing classes. If she was really hurt, she'd have told us straight away when it happened, but she just took advantage of the situation and ended up winning about £6,500."

So what can you do to avoid becoming a victim of accident claims? The first step retailers must take is to carry out a risk assessment of their premises to ensure all surfaces are free from slip and trip hazards. "In addition, if there is a trip hazard that is out of your control, such as uneven pavement outside the shopfront, then you must look to see whether your actions are increasing the risk of injury," suggests Knowles.

"You should record your findings and review them on a regular basis, and identify any potential hazards. In Paul's case, carrying out a risk assessment could have helped him to spot the potential for someone to trip on the pothole and he could have then moved his trolleys away from the area."

Remember, too, that you could be liable for your employees' actions at work, warns SME. "Employees must be trained in what action to take to reduce risk. They must be aware of the need to look out for slip and trip risks, to take action to mop up spills or remove trip hazards," says Knowles. 

Simple measures

Employees should also know what to do should a customer injure themselves. "They should be empowered to reassure the customer, offer to call friends or family, or arrange transport home," he says. "Such simple measures can do a lot to reduce the risk of a claim following a minor accident."

Aviva, which provides Convenience Store Insurance, warns that although it may be tempting to neglect risk management in favour of more pressing issues, retailers simply cannot afford to. "Whatever pressure a business is facing, now is not the time to cut back on risk management," says Aviva liability risk manager Phil Grace. "Paying attention to safety can help to manage the risk of accidents or claims. Keeping detailed records of what you've done will prove invaluable in defending claims and may be the factor that helps your insurer to detect and defeat fraudulent claims."

Ensure that you record your working practices and procedures, from the way in which staff are trained to the daily inspections of the shop floor and the pavement outside the front of the store, advises SME. These records will not only help you to manage the risks but may prove vital in the defence of a claim. "It's these records that will establish beyond doubt your caring approach to managing risk and preventing accidents," explains Knowles. 

Advice and guidance

Aviva is offering its commercial insurance customers a helping hand with access to a free website providing legal and risk management advice and guidance. The site has been designed for smaller businesses and includes an easy-to-use healthcheck tool to help you understand and measure how well you're doing at managing risks in the workplace.

If you are an Aviva commercial policyholder speak to your insurance broker for details