High-End Retail Slips and
presents its own
complications for risk
managers and loss
By Dan Reynolds
Picture this: It’s the busy holiday shopping season. A mid-December snow, while charming and evocative of Christmas carols, brings moisture to the streets of New York, some of which is tracked into the foyer and shopping aisles of one of that city’s high-end retailers. A shopper in her early seventies, well off but not as nimble as she
once was, rounds the corner of one of the store’s aisles, which is more choked than
usual with holiday sale displays and eye-catching impulse items.
She’s not in dressy high heels, but is wearing stylish leather boots with three-inch heels. Momentarily distracted, perhaps by the beauty of a glittering bulb on
a real-life Christmas tree, or a nudge from a passing shopper, she steps on a slick
point of the polished floor, made more slippery by those melted snowflakes. She
slips, throws out her arm to catch something and catches nothing, striking the
floor head first and suffering a traumatic brain injury.
This horrendous scenario, though not a frequent occurrence in high-end retail,
does occur. And when it happens, it results not only in life-altering injuries but
also settlements in the six figures.
Mitigating slips and falls in retail, in general, is complicated. But high-end
retail, with its focus on heritage properties, original design materials and glossy
finishes, carries its own set of risk management complications.
According to Walter Palmer, loss control expert and practice leader, EPIC
Insurance Brokers & Consultants, high-end retail and its focus on design does
present its own challenges; things such as marble staircases and vintage throw rugs
aren’t a risk manager’s preferred materials.
“One of the challenges for risk managers is to have to work around those
parameters the best they can so that they can support the artistic vision that the
company has and at the same time be able to mitigate the risk. At high-end retail,
they need to be able to tell that story to their broker,” he said.
And although some high-end retailers shoot for a consistent look in their stores
across the country, others may go for different styles, varying the layout from store
to store, making the risk manager’s job that much harder.
High-end retailers also need to be very “buttoned down” about the way
they report accidents. In the area of what claims adjusters call “frequent fliers,”
or slip and fall fraudsters, Palmer’s high-end retail clients say they feel they
are targeted by fraud perpetrators more often because of the perception they
have deeper pockets and may also be more sensitive to the reputational hit of a
TRAIN AND DOCUMENT
Generally speaking, when it comes to the size of a claim, it matters more
how severely injured a claimant is and how negligent the store owner was than
the brand of the store. According to a veteran casualty claims adjuster, when an
accident happens, documenting it well and handing the case off to the adjuster in
good order is paramount.
“I always tell my retail clients to
take pictures right off the bat because
you have one shot at that when a fall
happens,” said Richard Gelok, Florida-based casualty general adjuster, Engle
“I can come back 24 hours later
after I get assigned the file and the
scene is not going to be the same at
all,” Gelok said. “It’s important to
make an assessment of the claimant, if
they’re smelling of alcohol, if they’re
slurring their words, or if they were
on their phone. There is comparative
negligence with every slip and fall, in
• Thorough documentation of a slip
and fall is a key risk management
• High-end retail does present a
unique set of challenges for risk
• Industry knowledge about which
cleaning agents are best for
certain floor surfaces is growing
“One of the challenges for risk
managers is to have to work
around those parameters the
best they can so that they can
support the artistic vision that
the company has, and at the same
time be able to mitigate the risk.”
— Walter Palmer, practice leader, integrated risk
solutions, EPIC Insurance Brokers & Consultants
Slip and fall risks in retail are more of a frequency issue than a severity issue. But when they do go wrong, they can be catastrophic.