Tag: Snow Removal

Snow Removal

Landlords, Are You Responsible for Snow Removal? Don’t Get Buried by Injury Liability or Fines

Who’s responsible when the snowflakes fly and the drifts blow over the walkways at your rental property? You might have to clear away a few layers to get to the answer. Snow removal is a problem when you’ve got accessibility and public safety issues to consider. As the snow piles grow, so do your chances of being fined or sued for personal injury. Check your rental agreement and local ordinance for guidelines before your liability risk goes adrift.

Read your local ordinance for snow removal laws

It’s best to familiarize yourself with your city codes (usually posted on the city’s website) and, if you’re part of a homeowners association, take time to get clear on its snow removal rules, too.

For example, New Bedford’s city ordinance is clear. The website is specific about snow removal expectations and timeframes for when you need to remove the snow. It even includes a downloadable brochure with pictures. Fines for noncompliance can be as high as $50 per day.

Who’s responsible? The answer is whoever is “in charge of” the building or residence. You could get into an avalanche of legalese if you aren’t clear in your lease agreement. The theme is this:

  • Recognize your risk exposures
  • Understand your legal liabilities
  • Eliminate risk where you can
  • Transfer remaining risk by insuring it

You’re the property owner and the city will come to your door. The same is true in the event of a lawsuit. “I didn’t know” isn’t a good defense in court.

Check your lease agreement

Your rental agreement should specify who’s responsible for clearing snow. Be proactive and dig in early when handling snow removal responsibilities.

  • Mail a reminder notice detailing the rental agreement. You might want to send that certified so you have a record of the notification.
  • Leave tools and de-icing equipment for your tenant, so there’s no room for confusion.
  • Do a visual check on your property to ensure your tenant removes the snow.
  • If you offer your tenant a discount in rent (or pay them on the side), talk to your lawyer to make sure there’s no employment status confusion.
  • Suppose your tenant agrees to clear the snow but doesn’t. Consider hiring someone in the interim until you’ve gotten it sorted. City officials won’t stop fining you while you figure out why your tenant dropped the ball.

Gig workers and snow removal service providers

It happens — the person you hire to remove the snow (so people don’t get hurt) ends up being the person who gets hurt. If your snow removal service is an independent gig worker, make sure they’ve got insurance, too. Whether they injure themselves or damage your property, it’s best to make sure everyone is protected.

Some insurance companies offer by-the-hour coverage just for people who work side jobs. Hourly insurance doesn’t take long to bind, and proof of insurance (or a certificate of insurance) is usually available on short notice.

Clear a path around your risk liability

Now that you’re aware of the potential for liability surrounding snow and ice removal, chip out a few moments to call your insurance professional about your landlord insurance policy. No matter how vigilant you are, accidents happen, and that’s where insurance comes in. Get liability limits that are high enough to cover a slip and fall on your property. Think about coverage for the tools you leave for your tenants’ use, too (snow blowers don’t come cheap).

Consider an umbrella policy to extend limits across your landlord insurance policy. It’s usually less expensive than increasing your individual policy limits, and it may broaden the coverage you already have.

You can’t get around city ordinances, but you can protect what’s important and stay ahead of the storm.

Plow Away Snow-Removal Risk

Plow Away Snow-Removal Risk

Snow removal can be complicated. Not every state or locale has laws regarding snow removal, but among those that do, the regulations can vary significantly. Most consequential, however, is that each state assigns different levels of liability to snow removal companies.

Some do not hold snow removal contractors responsible for third-party injuries suffered after snow removal, while others transfer full or at least partial responsibility to the snow removal company both during and after the snow is cleared.

Even if your liability is minimized, it is never completely eliminated. That means commercial general liability insurance is among the most important policies your snow removal company needs.

This insurance helps with the cost of defending your business against claims of property damage or physical injury caused by your company, either at your own offices or at a client’s property during snow removal. Depending on the policy, coverage may also apply even after the job is complete.

If your company is ultimately found at fault, the policy also helps with the cost of any awarded damages or medical expenses.

Confirm with your insurance professional if you need to add a specific snowplow completed-operations endorsement to your policy. This addendum, called an endorsement by insurers, extends liability protection to incidents that happen after you’ve finished removing the snow and are not even on the property. For example, an endorsement would kick in if someone slips and falls in a parking lot you’ve cleared or a pile of snow you pushed to the side causes physical damage to something.

Also make sure your policy covers rooftop snow removal if that is a service you provide, as that activity poses special risks.

Beyond liability

In addition to liability protection, your insurance checklist should include:

Commercial truck/auto

This type of policy covers vehicles, snowplows or equipment used to haul vehicles to your work site. If you have several vehicles, your agent or broker will talk to you about fleet insurance, which is an efficient way to cover all your vehicles on one policy.

If your employees or subcontractors use their own personal vehicles for snow removal, it is important to understand that their personal auto policy does not apply to business use. You can add hired and non-owned insurance to protect your employees’ personal vehicles, and you should require subcontractors to provide their own proof of insurance with liability levels at least equal to your own limits.

Be sure to discuss with your insurance professional any detachable equipment, such as snow blades, to ensure it is included as well.

Of additional note: It is common for landscape companies to augment income in winter months by plowing snow. Do not assume your current vehicle insurance extends to snow removal jobs; you should confirm adequate coverage with your insurance professional.

Commercial property

Whether you own or lease a business space or operate your business from home, commercial property insurance helps with the cost of damage or loss of physical assets owned by the business. This includes computers and technology, tools, furniture and other possessions. Losses related to theft, vandalism, fires, storms, explosions or burst pipes are typically covered, while those caused by earthquakes, floods or wildfires require an add-on policy specific to those perils.

You may want to add other coverages to your commercial property policy as well, depending on your business model. As examples, you may want equipment breakdown insurance to cover the repair or replacement of specific valuable equipment due to an electrical or mechanical issue, and business interruption insurance to replace income lost during a forced halt in operations due to a covered physical loss.

Talk to your agent or broker about off-season use and storage of your equipment as well.

Errors and omissions (E&O)

Also known as professional liability, this type of policy protects you if someone accuses you of making a mistake that costs them money or harm, including issues related to negligence, errors in service provided, omissions, misrepresentations or inaccurate advice.

As examples of potential E&O claims, perhaps your employees failed to show up at a client location following a snowfall or they failed to clear all required surfaces,  making it impossible for a client to open for the day. While general liability would not cover these instances because third-party physical damage or personal injury did not occur, E&O coverage could apply.

Workers’ compensation

Most states require employers to carry workers’ compensation insurance. Depending on the number of employees you have, you may need to purchase this insurance to provide for medical expenses and/or lost wages caused by a workplace injury. Note that if you use independent contractors, you need to consult a labor lawyer as well as your insurance professional, since the government is cracking down on misclassification of workers. Depending on how you structure your relationship with contract workers, you could be considered their employer — even if for a very short period of time — and you might need to include them on your workers’ comp policy.

Umbrella insurance

There is always risk of a loss greater than your policy limits. To protect against catastrophic loss, an umbrella policy can provide backup protection by picking up where your primary insurance leaves off. An umbrella policy cannot be used as a replacement for primary policies, but it does allow you to control costs by maintaining lower primary policy limits without leaving yourself exposed, should a large liability claim occur.

Customize your options to get the right coverage

As a snow removal company, you have several options for how to insure your business. The policies discussed above are traditional methods, but there are more innovative products that you may wish to consider.

One is an insurance program specifically designed for snow removal (and lawn care) companies. An insurance program typically bundles multiple coverages for a client so you don’t have to build a full suite piecemeal. There are also business owner policies and insurance package polices that achieve a similar outcome — the fullest protection assembled into a suite specifically for your needs.

Call us  about these options since they are designed to be highly effective and affordable.