Prison Time for Phony Slip-and-Fall Claimant?

by Chris Martin on November 25, 2013

Small business owners have many different things which can keep them up at night. They worry about being unable to get their products to customers in time, or of being beaten by their competition, or cost overruns that can bleed a business dry. But arguably the worst-case scenario for a business owner is the one incident that can cost an inordinate amount of money to address – like a lawsuit, for instance – that results in the business being shut down. That’s why business owners buy insurance.

Unfortunately, some unscrupulous individuals are aware of this. So they target small businesses with lawsuits and insurance claims in the hopes of scoring some easy cash.

One man in Illinois took this practice to the extreme, and is now facing a possible lengthy incarceration period. Juventino Guzman, a 51-year old man from Elgin, has pled guilty to filing multiple bogus lawsuits claiming that he slipped, fell and hurt himself inside small businesses. He reportedly bilked insurance companies out of more than $200,000 in claims payouts. Guzman filed lawsuits for three fabricated incidents: one at a Popeye’s Chicken restaurant in Elgin in November of 2011, another at a Burger King fast food eatery in Carpentersville in April of last year, and a third at a Butera grocery store in Elgin this past January. He will be sentenced on December 20, and could be nailed with as much as five to fifteen years in prison, though he could also receive probation.

If you’re a small business owner, you’re probably asking yourself: How can I avoid being a target of slip-and-fall scams like these?

Here are some suggestions:

  • Don’t mop the floors when people are around. Floors never dry as quickly as you want them to.
  • Whenever a solid or liquid spill occurs, clean it up immediately. Even if you are deluged with customers, find an employee to clean up the mess so that no one slips and falls in it.
  • Whenever the floor is wet, mark off the area with clear signs indicating “Wet Floor.”
  • Make sure all areas of your establishment are well lit, so people can see where they are going. Do your best to keep product aisles as uncluttered as possible.
  • Place floor mats near entryways, around food and drink counters, and anywhere else where spilled liquid or debris may occur.
  • Always check appliances like refrigerators, ice machines, etc. for leaks on a daily basis.
  • On snowy or icy days, make sure that all sidewalks, entry areas, and parking lots are shoveled and/or ice disposed of.
  • If there are any electrical cords on the floor, make sure they are taped down with duct tape and covered. If there are any uneven parts of a floor, be sure they are covered with something like a floor mat so people won’t trip on them.
  • If possible, install video cameras in your establishment, especially near entryways.

If you think that these suggestions sounds a lot like what to do to prevent slip-and-fall accidents form actually happening, you’re right. Think about it from the perspective of a fraudster: in order to maximize the chances of a scam’s success, it helps to have potentially dangerous conditions in existence. That way, people are less likely to question the scammer’s side of the story. But if your business strives to ensure that conditions are safe for customers, the chances of the establishment being targeted by fraudsters decrease substantially.

If you think you’ve been the target of a slip-and-fall scam, contact your insurance company (or the police) and express your concerns. Try to find people who witnessed the accident, and check video footage on the day of the incident if it is available. And never, ever accept someone’s offer to settle a complaint “on the side” or “for cash.” And of course, use floor mats wisely and liberally.

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