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See “How to Avoid Slip-And-Fall Claims” in the box below for ways to avoid slip-and-fall accidents.

Producing awesome-looking decorative stamped concrete is something to take great pride in. But that’s only half the equation. Does your company know what to do if it gets caught up in a legal situation involving slip-and-fall accidents? Hopefully, you will never find yourself having to defend your decorative concrete work or your company’s actions. But if you do, you can learn some valuable lessons from this story.

Recently, I was asked by an attorney based in South Carolina to act as an expert witness in a lawsuit involving a case in which someone had allegedly slipped and fallen on a stamped concrete sidewalk. The client he was representing was a local college. My experience was very eye opening, and I felt compelled to share it with you in hopes of shedding light on certain circumstances many contractors never even consider.

Case in pointI usually receive a dozen or so requests like this a year, and I have always declined, with the fear that I could be hanging an industry colleague out to dry. What made this particular case different was the fact that one of the defendants was a small stamped concrete contractor who could easily be put out of business, depending on the outcome of this lawsuit. I felt compelled to get involved after reading the depositions from both sides and reviewing the pictures of the stamped concrete the plaintiff supposedly slipped on. My main motivation was to defend our industry.

In reviewing the photographs, I was looking to see if the contractor was able to obtain full texture within the stamp imprint, or if the texture was too light. If concrete starts getting hard during the stamping process, this greatly reduces the amount of texture that can be achieved, which in certain scenarios can contribute to a slippery surface, especially in the presence of moisture. This was not the case here, and the stamp imprint had a full texture. In addition, a nonskid additive was used in the sealer, and the slope of the sidewalk was minimal. Overall, I felt the quality of the stamped concrete job was very good.

After taking a trip to the college to tour the actual site with my attorney, I met with the plaintiff’s attorney for a visit that lasted an hour and felt like an interrogation. The young, aggressive attorney had obviously done his research based on the questions he asked me and the resources he referenced, dating as far back as 10 years. One question he asked was whether I had read an article in a trade journal by a so-called industry expert who claimed he did not like stamped concrete because it was slippery. I hadn’t read the article, but I took offense to the attorney’s implications. Stamped concrete surfaces have been around since the 1950s, and many of us have earned a wonderful living producing stamped concrete, with extremely satisfied customers and no slip-and-fall claims. Although none of this attorney’s fact-finding missions implicated me in any way, it was a valuable learning experience.

After my visit to the college campus, I received an email two days later informing me that the case had been settled out of court for a very low sum, saving the college virtually hundreds of thousands of dollars and sparing the concrete contractor. Yes, there was a feeling of redemption because our side had won. But I also realized that we live in different times and some people want to take unfair advantage of situations when they see an opportunity.

How to Avoid Slip-And-Fall ClaimsThis experience stresses how important it is for stamped concrete contractors to protect themselves from these potential lawsuits. Here are some basic ways you can avoid situations that can lead to slip-and-fall accidents and big legal headaches:

  • Understand the type of traffic the surface will be subject to. Depending on the type of traffic, you may need to consider using a heavier stamp texture or a different finish.

  • Consider using a nonskid additive in your sealer or as part of your sealer system. Broadcasting a light layer of aluminum oxide on to the surface and then applying a coat of sealer and back rolling is one option. Some contractors hand broadcast silica into the sealer. One of the most widely used methods is to mix resin sand or glass beads into the sealer before rolling it onto the concrete surface. (Learn more about making concrete slip resistant.)

  • Don’t build up multiple thick layers of sealer, especially if you are not using nonskid additives.

  • Assuming you are using a broadcast dry-shake color hardener as your coloring system, consider broadcasting a light layer onto the surface prior to the application of the release agent. This extra layer, which isn’t actually finished into the concrete, will provide a gritty surface. (If you are considering this method, practice on samples to obtain the desired look and texture.)

  • Understand concrete and take advantage of the most opportune time to stamp to achieve optimum texture.

  • Have enough stamping tools and labor on hand to cover large areas before the concrete starts to set.

  • Stamp during the coolest part of the day, before temperatures get too hot. Or consider using set retarding admixtures to delay setting times, enabling you to texture the surface before it sets up. (Read more about set retarders).

  • Educate your client on the importance of properly maintaining the concrete surface and avoiding the use of products that could make the concrete slippery.

  • As a contractor, understand the extent of your liability. Generally, your client assumes the responsibility for providing a safe walking or driving surface, and if they are left with a slippery surface, they may be liable for any resulting slip-and-fall accidents that occur. Consider including revisions in your contract that protects you from any claims.

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