Is Your Snow Removal Contractor Responsible for a Liability Claim?

March is full of surprises—including, sometimes, snow! Yes, even with spring is in sight, late-season snow falls can appear at the last minute, causing landlords, building owners and property managers to bring out the snow shovels and sidewalk salt once again. And, if you own a commercial building, condo unit, rental house or private residence, a surprise snowfall puts your tenants at risk for slip and fall accidents and, ultimately, potential liability claims against you.

As a property management company or building owner, you are responsible for maintaining the premises and preventing accidents associated with winter weather. Hiring a snow removal company can ensure that your property is well-maintained and mitigates the risk of an accident or liability claim in Ontario.

However, if you do decide to hire a snow removal company, it’s important to keep up to date on your insurance policy, maintain a record of your contractors and regularly review these details to prevent unwanted lawsuits and claims against your business. Today, we’ll examine what happened when one Ontario property management firm was sued for a slip and fall claim and what this lawsuit meant for the snow removal company.

What We Can Learn from a Four-Year Slip and Fall Lawsuit

A recent article by the Canadian Underwriter illustrates the myriad of issues property owners and residents may face when filing an injury-related claim. According to author Greg Meckbach, it took four years for one Ottawa landscape firm to be “added as a defendant in a personal injury lawsuit in Ontario.” But under what circumstances would it take four years to add a defendant to a slip and fall lawsuit? Well, here’s what we know about the incident:

In 2016, an Ottawa woman was injured in a slip and fall accident. She filed a claim against her building’s property management firm; however, at the time of her initial claim, the resident was unaware that the property management firm had a contract with a third-party snow removal company. By the time she and her lawyer became aware of the snow removal contractor’s involvement, it was 2019, roughly three years after the incident, and long after the claim had been made against the property management corporation.

Adding a new defendant to a trial is not easy since, in Ontario, the Limitations Act and the Occupiers’ Liability Act outline a specific set of limitations for claims:

  1. First, a court will not proceed with a lawsuit for claims that were filed more than two years after the alleged incident.
  2. Next, under the Occupiers’ Liability Act, snow removal companies are protected against liability claims “unless, within 60 days after the occurrence of the injury, written notice of the claim is served.”

Despite the claim being filed more than two years after the incident, the court did decide to add the snow removal company as a defendant. To explain her decision, the justice cited a similar case from 2018, which stated “the motion to add the defendant should be granted, with leave for the defendant to plead a limitation defence.” Because the judge could find no reason as to why the snow removal contractor’s insurance company failed to contact the plaintiff’s lawyer, the court had to allow the landscape company to be added as a defendant.

Key Considerations for Property Owners and Project Management Firms

Are you thinking of hiring a snow removal contractor this season? Acumen’s team has identified a few key suggestions that will help property owners mitigate risks associated with hiring snow removal companies.

  • Keep a log: It’s important to record interactions with your snow removal contractor and maintain careful notes about your contract, including their maintenance schedule. Similarly, property managers should do their due diligence to record the date of any accidents or complaints from tenants regarding slip and falls. A carefully maintained logbook can serve as evidence if a lawsuit is filed against you.
  • Hire contractors that are insured: As a property manager, it’s your duty to ensure that the companies you hire are fully insured. Collect as much information as you can regarding the contractor’s insurance policy, including the company where they purchased the insurance and the amount of coverage that they have. Hiring a contractor that is properly insured will protect you, the contractor, and your tenants in the event of an injury or accident.
  • Create a “how often” to-do list: Establish a schedule for your snow removal contractors to follow and ask what you can expect from their services, how often they clear the snow, and additional services that they might implement, such as sidewalk maintenance and salt-spreading. Be sure to review any contract carefully so that you understand their conditions and the duration of their services, too. You can reference these schedules to determine whether an injury happened during the contract duration.

Protect Your Commercial Property with Acumen

Our insurance brokerage is proud to offer guidance, advice and personalized coverage options to help our commercial clients protect themselves. And, with Ontario’s unpredictable weather, making sure that your snow removal contractors are covered is another great way to keep yourself protected. To find additional advice, coverage options and insurance solutions, connect with one of our insurance brokers today!