A Cautionary Tale

August 31, 2020

There’s a picture I like to share when I talk to groups about slip-and-fall claims and the role of snow and ice management. It’s a fairly simple image of a plain storefront sign outside an ambulance-chasing attorney’s office that reads: “We Pay $10K For Your Slip-And-Fall.”

There are roughly 30,000 slip-and-fall claims annually for incidents involving snow and ice.  When a slip-and-fall claim is filed with the courts – whether valid or bogus – everyone is dragged into the legal abyss -- property owner, property manager, and snow and ice management contractor. And these claims must either be defended or resolved financially, often to the tune of $40,000 or more.  

In the wake of an ongoing global pandemic, this image again resonates with me as to how dangerous predatory, opportunistic, and unscrupulous plaintiff’s attorneys can be for the average property owner. And when snow and ice accumulate, the plaintiff’s attorneys see opportunities to exploit winter slip-and-fall incidents and shift the blame on to others for financial gain.

As you evaluate service offerings for this coming winter season, do not make the mistake of curtailing services to the point where you inadvertently create an unsafe situation for yourself or your clients. Yes, we’ve experienced two back-to-back unseasonably warm winters. And yes, a resurgence of the COVID-19 virus in the coming months could result in the suspension (temporarily, and hopefully not permanently) of your tenants’ operations. But I must warn you, the unintended consequences of saving a few dollars in scaled-back winter services will result in wasted time and money defending and/or settling a slip-and-fall incident on the property. Do not underestimate the value of a qualified and certified snow and ice professional who can offer a layer of protection in the event a slip-and-fall claim is made, even a frivolous one.

Whether you own/manage a retail location, restaurant, commercial office building, manufacturing plant or distribution center, a professional snow and ice management company provides your clients (and to an extent their customers, too) safe and unrestricted access to your property, which ensures an uninterrupted flow of commerce. In addition, the presence of a qualified snow professional reflects your desire to make safety a top priority on your property.

When choosing a snow and ice professional, look for a contractor who follow the ANSI Standards for Snow and Ice Management. These Industry Standards were developed to promote professionalism in the industry and to enable snow and ice contractors the ability to protect themselves, their customers, and the insurance companies in the event of a claim. Industry Standards ensure snow and ice management contractors and their crews are well trained and well documented through all areas of winter service. Qualified contractors may even promote their ASCA-C certification. Issued through the Accredited Snow Contractors Association (ASCA), the designation shows the contractor abides by the Industry Standards. In addition, contractors may proudly carry ISO 9001/SN 9001 certification, perhaps the highest level of achievement in the professional snow and ice industry.

Therefore, when evaluating your winter service provider for this coming season do not reduce services to an unsafe level. The untended consequences of skimping on snow and ice services or going with an under-qualified, inexperienced cut-rate contractor could leave you and your clients financially vulnerable to liability. Instead, an investment in employing the services of a qualified snow professional protects both you and your clients, and ensures your properties are being serviced correctly for the safety and benefit of everyone.

 Kevin Gilbride is the Executive Director of the Accredited Snow Contractors Association.You can reach him at kgilbride@ascaonline.com