As much as we want to put it off, winter is really here in New England. Winter Storm Jonas (thanks Weather Channel!) is on his way, and as the days continue to get colder, one of the questions we get asked by a lot of business owners is “What is my snow removal responsibility?”

This is a legitimate insurance concern for businesses. Owners and managers of commercial property have a responsibility to maintain safe conditions for employees, occupants and guests on their property. In 2010, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled on the Massachusetts Snow Removal Law that business owners had the same obligation to remove snow and ice, as any other hazards on their property. That is a duty to “act as a reasonable person under all of the circumstances including the likelihood of injury to others, the probable seriousness of such injuries, and the burden of reducing or avoiding the risk.”

During the winter, walkways, parking lots, steps and stairways, become slip and fall hazards that can pose an expensive legal claim should an incident occur. To prevent injuries and protect your business, commercial property owners and managers should consider implementing a snow removal program. Here are some things to consider for your snow removal plan.

  • How will you remove the snow and ice and who will do so?
  • When will you remove the snow? (at what number of inches, by what time, etc.)
  • Who is responsible to execute the plan?

When selecting a snow removal contractor, its wise to use a written contract that has been reviewed by an attorney, collect a certificate of insurance showing proof of auto, general liability and workers compensation insurance, ask to be held harmless and named as an additional insured on contractors policy.

On an annual basis, you should also verify that your selected contractors insurance includes snowplowing operations and also collect certificates and review contracts.

Regarding any property tenants, occupants or guests…. Send out a letter, flyer or newsletter, to all tenants or occupants and employees asking them to report any snow or ice hazards immediately to a designated person in charge of snow plan. When possible use weather mats at entrances and provide salt and sand buckets.

Log all snow and ice activities in a snow removal log. Record date and time of snow fall, how much snow, when the contractor was called and snow was removed and the name of the person recording information. This log will help you defend yourself should a claim occur.

Being prepared is the key to preventing claims. If you have any questions on your Snow Removal Plan, don’t hesitate to contact us.