Most businesses know that they must maintain safety within and around their properties, and they have insurance policies, electronic surveillance, physical security, and written safety guidelines in place. But one potential hazard that stores may not consider is a motor vehicle crashing through the storefront.
The Storefront Safety Council reports that roughly 60 of these crashes occur daily in the U.S., which equates to over 20,000 crashes each year. An estimated 500 fatalities and 4,000 injuries are incurred, along with approximately $200 million in medical expenses and property damage alone.
Recent Examples of Storefront Accidents
At the M&J Home Cooking Country Buffet in Snellville, Georgia, a 71-year-old restaurant customer was struck and killed when the driver of a BMW SUV, who was attempting to park in the lot, came crashing into the buffet. As a startled witness described it, “the wall exploded” and the SUV ended up about 20 feet inside the restaurant’s interior. The driver claimed he inadvertently pressed the accelerator instead of the brake pedal.
According to the Kansas City Star, Cumberland Farms, a convenience store chain with over 500 locations, had endured 485 storefront accidents between 2000 and 2009. In 2010, a 43-year-old woman was killed when a vehicle crashed through the front of one of these locations. Her family pursued a case of wrongful death against Cumberland Farms for failing to properly protect customers against such incidents and was awarded $32.4 million in addition to interest.
Who Drives Through Storefronts?
Rob Reiter, a specialist in storefront safety and security, compared national data on licensed drivers against drivers who had caused storefront vehicle crashes. He found that drivers over the age of 60 contributed to 45% of these types of crashes. Drivers under the age of 40 were the other large category, accounting for 38% of these accidents. Only 17% were caused by drivers in between these two age groups.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration referenced a North Carolina study that indicated accidents resulting in injuries and death are actually more common in areas of lower speeds, such as storefronts, pedestrian-friendly retail areas, and parking lots. Areas that combine foot traffic and motor vehicle traffic are inherently dangerous because a simple slip of the attention could result in catastrophic injuries to a pedestrian.
The leading cause of storefront accidents is when a driver activates the accelerator instead of the brake pedal, which comprises roughly 36% of the incidents. Other commonly cited reasons include drivers failing to control their vehicle, “ram-raid” (drivers using the vehicle as a tool in a crime), and drivers operating under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
Can Storefront Accidents Be Prevented?
Largely as a result of the storefront crash “phenomenon,” businesses have been installing short vertical steel barriers along the exterior of sporting venues, large retail areas, and governmental structures. These are known as bollards and they are capable of preventing or lessening the damage that a vehicle can inflict on people and property. They are typically installed in a manner that shields the exterior of a building, and the individual cost can range from $600 to $5,000 for more advanced models that claim to prevent types of terrorist attacks.
There was a highly publicized incident in New York’s Times Square where a car ventured the wrong way down a one-way street and struck many pedestrians, inflicting 22 injuries and killing one bystander. However, the damages could have been much greater if bollards were not present. They had been installed less than one year earlier as a safety solution, and apparently worked well when put to the test in that incident. When bollards are properly installed, they are able to resist an impact of up to 30 mph.
Bollards Can Be the Difference Between Life and Death
Bollards are a proactive means of protecting a structure, and if they are capable of preventing even one injury or fatality, they are well worth it. Ideal Shield, a bollard industry leader, explained that Dunkin’ Donuts has employed bollards in stores across the country with good results. The spacing between the bollards should be no greater than five feet, to reduce a vehicle’s ability to travel between them and to increase the chance that multiple bollards can absorb the impact. They may be of tremendous value for retailers that have “drive-thrus” where vehicles are constantly traveling in close proximity to the store and would protect employees or patrons who are entering or exiting the establishment.
If a retail business fails to take this step to protect its customers, it could be argued (as it was against Cumberland Farms) that the business ignored a known risk of storefront accidents and negligently placed patrons in harm’s way. After a storefront crash, it may be possible to hold both the negligent driver and the business that did not take reasonable steps to protect its customers liable for any injuries that victims suffered. For a free consultation about your unique situation with a North Carolina pedestrian accident attorney at Rhine Law Firm, P.C., please call (910) 501-2474.