This is the third of a four-part series of articles discussing the many dangers that can lead to injuries, fatalities and property damage during the Thanksgiving holiday time. It has been well established that the U.S. mortality rate rises around Thanksgiving and remains heightened throughout the winter months. Much of this is based on the seasonal changes including colder weather and the impact of the flu; however, car accidents and coronary health problems, such as heart attacks, are also much more likely. During the Thanksgiving weekend, retailers host large sales to attract the consumer, which makes it the largest period of shopping during the year with over 130 million shoppers. The Friday after Thanksgiving referred to as “Black Friday” is the largest day, and recently “Small Business Saturday” is also widely promoted. With massive crowds visiting the stores the potential for injuries exists.
The origin of the term Black Friday is said to have been from police officers in Philadelphia who complained of traffic congestion and masses of pedestrians present in retail areas. From an accounting perspective in the consumer retail sector, the term signifies stores moving their finances from the red into the black. The Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) advocates for reducing the number of injuries that occur during these major holiday shopping periods. OSHA created a “Crowd Management Safety Guidelines for Retailers,” which outlines the best practices for retail businesses to prevent accidents.
Stores must remain aware of the number of shoppers in their stores to comply with occupancy laws relating to fire hazards. Larger retailers have even begun specific training programs geared toward accident prevention, partially in hopes of avoiding costly liability, particularly to educate their influx of seasonal employees. Much of the possibility for injuries such as “slip-and-fall” incidents may actually occur even before entering the stores, as winter weather conditions may surface in Denver. National Weather Service data shows the Denver area averages roughly 7.5 inches of snow in November. The potential of ice in parking lots and along entryways can be very hazardous this time of year.
Business owners have an obligation that makes them legally responsible for protecting those visiting their property from harm, such as at a restaurant or store. This is based on C.R.S. § 13-21-115: Actions against landowners, the Colorado premises liability statute. This duty is to adequately maintain the conditions of the property. When an accident and subsequent injury occurs from poor conditions, such as a slip-and-fall on a slippery floor, the injured party may be able to recover compensation for damages they incurred. Under Colorado law, proving a claim of premises liability requires several key elements based on negligence as follows:
- The property owner or controller knew (or should have known) that potentially dangerous conditions existed.
- The owner did not make attempts to rectify the dangerous conditions.
- A clear causal relationship is shown between the owner's failure to remedy the condition and the injuries that occurred.
One extreme example occurred in Valley Stream, N.Y. on Black Friday a few years ago. Jdimytai Damour, a temporary security employee at Walmart, was killed when a mob of shoppers knocked him to the ground and trampled over him. Approximately 2,000 customers who were anxious to enter the store just prior to opening forced their way through the entrance doors. This led to the retailer's implementation of more sufficient security protocols on major retail holidays.
Dangers at Christmas Tree Farms/Parks
Thanksgiving weekend is the unofficial beginning of the holiday season and just as many people begin their Christmas shopping, many also pick out their Christmas tree. Colorado has several farms that offer a “cut-your-own” tree option. This includes the US Forest Service's Christmas Tree Program conducted throughout the Rocky Mountain area. Those wishing to obtain a tree must acquire a $10 permit. Often people do not take the proper precautions when doing so and injuries can result. It is critical that those cutting the tree wear proper eye protection and work gloves. It is also important to predetermine the direction that the tree will fall after making the cut to be sure that people or property are not in the area.