Biz Talk: Why You Should Expect That Unexpected Accident

One of the biggest challenges a business owner must face is risk management. An accident can happen anytime. But because you don’t know what and how it is going to happen, you just have to anticipate worst possible cases.

To prepare for the grand opening of our former bakery, CoffeeShop Treats,* I was assigned to coordinate all tasks and activities and manage the acquisition of all resources to make sure everything happened according to our implementation plan. This included applying for permits and licenses, talking to suppliers, scheduling equipment delivery and hiring employees.

One afternoon, as I walked back to my small office a few feet from the spot where I had just interviewed an applicant for a store associate position, I heard a loud bang that sounded like gunshots right behind me. I ran immediately toward my room. I started to panic.

I was already imagining gruesome scenarios before I picked up the phone to call 9-1-1. It could have been a police chase gone bad, I thought. I was scared, my voice was shaking as I tried to answer the lady on the other line asking, “Is everyone OK? Will you check if everyone is OK?”

I was shocked, I couldn’t move right away.

I mustered all my courage to go back to the bakery dining area, where I saw that a car had crashed through the window. A young lady, still holding her cellphone, stepped out and asked, “Are you Nina?”

She was looking for the hairdresser from the salon next door. After everyone was interviewed and the police team finished gathering information for their report, we learned that the car was new and that the driver had just gotten her license two weeks before the accident happened.

The store dining area was a huge mess. There was broken glass and spilled paint everywhere. The car had actually entered the bakery, hitting the chairs and table I had used during the applicant interview.

The broken pieces were thrown several feet from their original spot. Had the interview taken longer than it did, we could have been hit. I felt so thankful for being spared from injuries or even death. But it took me a while before I was able to get over my shock.

The accident pushed our timetable back another month. Fortunately, the two major pieces of equipment for the front display hadn't been delivered yet, or it would have caused us to delay opening for an additional two months.

Suddenly I realized we didn’t have business liability insurance yet.

Luckily, the driver’s car insurance covered the cost of damages. After listing all the items we had to replace, one of my partners suggested that we include ‘pain and suffering’ as part of the damages. It would have been great to recover some monetary compensation out of that unfortunate incident, but we couldn’t quantify exactly how much we should charge for that kind of trouble.

According to Jorick Gaines of Fryar Insurance Services and Risk Management, “If you want to include pain and suffering to your total damage cost, you should first consult an attorney. Since this item is not tangible, the attorney can help you present proof of evidence to validate your claim."

Gaines also recommends that business owners protect their personal assets along with their business assets in case damages cost more than the business's total asset or investment.

"This is critically important, especially for businesses organized as sole proprietorships,” he said.

Unfortunately, the car accident wasn't the end of our unexpected problems.

About two weeks later, the office was burglarized, and we lost at least $2,000 worth of equipment. We immediately procured a security alarm system to prevent similar break-ins in the future.

Especially when dealing with the public, you’re bound to face all kinds of potentially damaging, undesirable incidents. When disaster strikes, there is no telling when, how or what.

Be sure to protect your business and personal assets to minimize potential loss during an emergency. Discuss all possible scenarios with your insurance agent to make sure you get everything covered as much as you possibly can.

What do you do after dealing with that kind of accident? You move on. My partners and I tried to laugh it off by telling ourselves that we sure beat the Bayfair Starbucks with the "drive-thru" concept, although we were sure our drive-thru was not the scenario Starbuck's had in mind.

*CoffeeShop Treats LLC, a bakery cafe business, was sold in 2007.

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