Multiple fans were injured and carried out on stretchers after slipping and falling at SoFi Stadium in Los Angeles, California, during an NCAA championship football game on Jan. 2, according to reports. Heavy rainfall reportedly caused extremely slippery floors at the stadium, which has a hovering roof that is open on three sides, allowing sideways-blowing rain to enter. In a video posted to Twitter, staff can be seen coordinating with emergency responders, mopping up rain puddles and placing caution signs on the floor.
“Fractures are very common,” Sheridan said. “The extent of the injury depends on a lot of factors, including what happened when the individual fell and whether they hit their head. An elderly individual might not have the control to stop slipping as easily.”
It is unfortunate. It was a mix of a once-a-year championship football game, probably with alcohol involved, and then an unprecedented, once-a-generation rainstorm that hit.
It is a textbook example of why these facilities need Commercial General Liability (CGL) Insurance, said Evan Hudson, Manager, Commercial Insurance, Senior Broker, Burns & Wilcox, San Francisco, California.
“This is pretty much the standard kind of CGL Insurance policy loss,” Hudson said. “It is unfortunate. It was a mix of a once-a-year championship football game, probably with alcohol involved, and then an unprecedented, once-a-generation rainstorm that hit. Multiple factors combined to cause all of these issues.”
Falls are a leading cause of injury
The World Health Organization reports that 37.3 million falls requiring medical attention occur annually, and that falls are the second most common cause of unintentional injury deaths globally. According to Stanford Medicine, over 2.2 million children aged 14 and under in the U.S. receive emergency room treatment for injuries related to falls every year, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that 3 million older adults are treated for fall-related injuries each year.
In Canada, 20% to 30% of senior citizens experience one or more falls per year, and older adult falls account for $2 billion in annual healthcare costs, according to the Public Health Agency of Canada.
When these accidents occur on commercial property — whether a major sports stadium or small retail store — the property owner can be held responsible for the injured individual’s medical expenses and other costs. These expenses can be covered by CGL Insurance, which is designed to respond to third-party injuries and property damage.
When it comes to slip-and-fall accidents, coverage is usually very straightforward, Hudson said. In the SoFi Stadium situation, for example, “the medical expenses are where you are likely going to see these claims come in.”
With the number of injuries that happened there, and it looks like some of them could have been severe, the Excess Liability Insurance could be triggered once it goes over the standard CGL Insurance limits.
Any business with tile or other hard floorings can be particularly vulnerable to slip-and-fall accidents when water has been trekked into the building. Ice and snow can also create slip hazards for commercial properties, Sheridan said. In addition to CGL Insurance and Commercial Property Insurance, which can cover physical damage to the property itself after severe weather and other covered events, many business owners should also consider Excess Liability Insurance. This can provide additional liability coverage in the event CGL Insurance claims exceed standard policy limits.
“You are seeing a lot more need for that nowadays with the nuclear verdict payouts that juries are awarding,” Hudson pointed out. “Most carriers do not like to get to that point. SoFi and any stadium like that are typically going to have Excess Liability Insurance, with limits likely north of $50 million to $100 million. With the number of injuries that happened there, and it looks like some of them could have been severe, the Excess Liability Insurance could be triggered once it goes over the standard CGL Insurance limits.”
For businesses that are buying insurance — even if not on the big scale of a stadium — if it is wet outside and there is standing water on the ground, you are going to be liable for falls.
Sheridan agreed that a major venue would typically have “significantly high limits,” and noted that smaller establishments could also see high claim severity with slip-and-fall accidents, making CGL Insurance and Excess Liability Insurance important for commercial properties of any size.
“For businesses that are buying insurance — even if not on the big scale of a stadium — if it is wet outside and there is standing water on the ground, you are going to be liable [for falls],” she said. “It is your responsibility as the owner or manager to clean it up.”
Other common causes of fall injuries include cracked concrete in parking lots or on sidewalks. In October of 2022, a jury awarded a $1 million verdict to a 74-year-old woman who hurt her ankle when she tripped on a crack in a Walmart parking lot in Ocoee, Florida, in 2015, Daily Business Review reported. In Canada, an 89-year-old woman received a settlement of $192,000 from the city of Hamilton after she tripped on a less-than-1-inch bump in the sidewalk in 2012, causing her to break her wrist and hip, CBC News reported in 2015.
“We see this a lot with shopping centers, grocery stores, and even apartment buildings,” Hudson said. “This is what a CGL Insurance policy is meant to cover.”
Alcohol may increase risk of customer injuries
While any commercial property owner should be aware of slip-and-fall risks, some situations could make accidents more likely to occur. According to a study published in September of 2020 in the journal Clinical and Experimental Emergency Medicine, slip injuries were more likely to be severe when the individual had consumed alcohol. Drinking is also a concern with falls because guests may have decreased body maneuverability and be less able to withstand injuries, the study noted.
At SoFi Stadium, “that was a massive venue, and it is possible that 25% [of patrons] or more could have been drinking,” Hudson said.
If anybody appears to be intoxicated, do not serve them. Rain or no rain, taking those types of measures is always recommended.
Establishments that serve alcohol may face a heightened risk of falls and other injuries, including confrontations between guests. These businesses should follow local regulations and alcohol management best practices to prevent overserving, Sheridan said. “If anybody appears to be intoxicated, do not serve them,” she said. “Rain or no rain, taking those types of measures is always recommended.”
Many of today’s commercial properties have security cameras, which can be helpful when investigating an on-site incident, Sheridan added. “Having cameras can help the owner see what happened and have that proof behind them,” she said.
Mitigating slip-and-fall risks
Falling incidents can result in costly legal actions and compensation claims. In 2022, a woman received a $2.15 million settlement after suing the property owner and a snow removal contractor over a fall she suffered on black ice in a parking lot in 2018, the New Jersey Law Journal reported. In 2017, a federal law clerk in South Carolina was awarded $750,000 in a settlement after a 2013 incident in which he fell down courthouse steps; according to reports, the steps had recently been polished and the fall occurred while workers waited for additional supplies of slip-resistant safety strips, which had run out, the Associated Press reported.
It is important for commercial property owners to take steps to reduce the risk of fall incidents, Sheridan and Hudson said. This may include maintaining enough staff to monitor conditions and keep floors clear, installing “wet floor” signage as needed, and using slip-resistant materials in high-traffic areas. According to the National Floor Safety Institute, data from the Consumer Product Safety Commission has found that more than 2 million fall injuries each year are caused by floors and flooring materials.
“It is up to the business, venue or whoever is putting on an event to be diligent and make sure things like this do not happen,” Hudson said of the injuries that occurred at SoFi Stadium. “When there is water, they need to make sure that the caution cones are out and workers are cleaning it up right away. They want to make sure that everybody is briefed on the situation and is alert to what needs to be done.”
If a slip-and-fall accident does occur, business owners should review what happened and mitigate any factors that could have contributed to it — a task that SoFi Stadium, for example, may be doing now, Sheridan said. “Perhaps the stadium did not [realize the risk] and now they are going to need to be reactive to that,” she said.
Unfortunately, not all accidents can be avoided, Hudson said. “When you have torrential downpours and tens of thousands of individuals, it probably would not be possible to have enough staff to clean up that water fast enough to completely avoid something like this,” he said. “This may have happened no matter what.”