How City Slip and Fall Lawsuits Have Stopped Snow Plows in the Field

For 20 winters in a row, contractor Wayne Shelly cleared Haliburton County driveways and roads. It wasn’t just a job for him, it was a civic duty. Many county roads are not maintained by municipalities during the winter and a large portion of the local population are retirees in need of help.

This year, your snow thrower will be idle. For Shelly and many snow removal contractors like him, insurance costs have skyrocketed to the point where it is impossible to make ends meet.

“It was very difficult to quit because I feel very, very obligated to people,” Shelly said. “I have done it for them for so many years. It has never been very rewarding financially, but it is a necessary service. It is something that people need, and we are less and less able to do it. “

Four days before her insurance renewal was scheduled last year, Shelly discovered that the company she had been with for decades would no longer cover snowplows. He found another company, but he wanted to raise his fee by $ 4,000, or about 70 percent, even though Shelly never had a claim against him in all his years of plowing. So the company wanted to increase the cost again this year. Shelly didn’t even get a quote; then he knew he would have to hang up.

“What they told us is that even though we are in a rural country where there are hardly any complaints, they are basing their rates on the fact that there have been more slip and fall lawsuits in the cities,” he said. “I guess everyone is looking for that demand for quick money so they can retire early and not have to work. But I don’t see how that should apply to us as it is not happening in our area. “

Tony Prentice of Tom Prentice and Sons Trucking had to endure a $ 5,000 increase in snowplow insurance last year. Your company still offers the service, but it is one of the few.

“There is hardly anyone plowing; now there is a real shortage due to the cost of insurance, ”he said. “It has been difficult for contractors, people who only have a truck and a blade on a lot of rural roads every winter. Now everyone is coming out of it. “

Prentice and Shelly said insurance prices are so high now that many contractors would have to increase their fee for snow removal beyond the point of affordability for residents. A job that used to cost $ 25 has more than tripled and “people just get by as they are,” Prentice said.

“A lot of people are retired, on a fixed income,” Shelly said. “To charge $ 80 to make a driveway, I just can’t bring myself to do it. That’s what it would cost to cover the insurance and wear and tear on the vehicle. “

Greg Raymond, chief executive of Insurance Hero, an Ontario brokerage, said he has seen the number of companies in the province willing to offer snowplow insurance drop from 40 five years ago to less than 10 today.

“The number one reason is the increase in slip and fall claims,” ​​he said. “Not only are they happening more frequently, but the severity is also increasing, so the payouts are even higher. It costs insurers a lot more money to defend these claims and compensate them. “

Raymond said insurers in general have been pulling out of less profitable and risky areas, like snow removal. Both rising claims costs and declining returns on investments over the past two years have caused the Canadian insurance industry to become much more selective in what it is willing to cover.

So who is filing all these slip and fall lawsuits? And why are snowplows responsible?

“Typically, it’s the business customers who have their parking lots plowed up by snow removal contractors,” Raymond said. “If Walmart hires a contractor to clean their lot and someone falls on the way to the store, that person will sue Walmart, but they will also bring in the snow removal contractor. There is responsibility and liability that falls on that contractor and their insurance provider.

“And it couldn’t be the snow removal operator’s fault, they will still be drawn into that lawsuit and defend themselves, even if it’s frivolous.”

And why would the claims increase? Is snow becoming plow resistant and ice forming faster?

“It’s not that the contractors are doing a worse job, the industry is just getting more litigious,” Raymond said. “Personal injury attorneys have become more active.”

To add another layer of injustice to what happened to Shelly’s business, he is also banned even as a volunteer from plowing snow.

Without snow removal insurance, Shelly can’t even clear an elderly neighbor’s driveway for free without risking losing insurance coverage on other aspects of her construction job.

“It bothers me that the people I have known so well for so long are struggling to find people now,” he said. “I checked with the insurance company and even if someone is really stuck or in an emergency, if it is discovered that I am plowing, my entire policy is canceled.”

Cabin owner Neil Campbell said many who live in the county are wondering how they can stay home this winter. He said that during the pandemic, many cabins on the lakes that are accessed by back roads have been converted into year-round homes.

“For the homeowner, in addition to the difficulty of getting off a road without plowing to buy groceries and so on, there would be the question of how would emergency services get in if help was needed,” Campbell said. “I have been told that many home insurance policies say their fire insurance is invalid if road access is not available.”

Shelly said that’s a big reason why having reliable snow removal services is so crucial to the community.

“Even for people who have cabins that don’t go into them all winter long, if they can’t get in fire vehicles and it turns out there is a fire, that could be a big problem,” he said.

Ben Cohen is a Star staff reporter in Toronto. Follow him on Twitter: @bcohenn

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