1. Review customer contracts: This is a perfect time to meet with customers to make sure they are satisfied with your services, possibly sell additional services, and renew contracts. Check all existing contracts to make sure the following are discussed:
- Start date and expiration date – There must be a start and stop date in every contract. This sounds simple, but I constantly see contracts without clearly identified effective dates. A contract is of little use if there is confusion about whether the contract was in effect.
- Signatures of all parties - I often see legal claims arising from slip and fall accidents occurring very early in the early snow season, before the contract for services is signed. An unsigned contract is generally not valid, and you should make sure all parties to a contract sign the contract on or before the effective date of the contract.
- Trigger for services – A contract must specify when snow clearing and deicing services are to begin. This is essential to any contract for snow services. The trigger can be as simple as upon 2” of accumulation, but there must be an express trigger for services in the contract. Do not sign a contract if there is any ambiguity about when services are required.
- Inspection/monitoring responsibility – Your contract should reflect whether you are responsible to monitor a location for melt and freeze after services are complete. This is extremely important from a liability perspective, as about 75% of the cases I defend arise from conditions caused by melt and freeze, and responsibility for inspection/monitoring is often highly contested.
- Price for services – I know this sounds silly, but the contract should clearly identify the price structure for the job location, including whether you are paid per event or per service, and whether additional payment will be made for inspection/monitoring. The contract should also state whether there is additional payment for pre-salting and for salting on return visits to the premises.
- Required insurance coverage – Many customers will require you carry a minimum amount of insurance coverage. This is appropriate, but the insurance limit should be clearly identified.
- Additional insured coverage – The contract should clearly set forth any requirement to provide additional insured coverage for your customer. Many large clients will require you identify them as additional insureds on your policy of insurance.
- Defense and indemnification – Large customers are requiring defense and indemnification for legal claims. Make sure the contract clearly and unambiguously sets forth the circumstances requiring defense and indemnification.
2. Update your insurance coverage: You likely have policies of insurance covering general liability, automobile and worker’s compensation. Do the following:
- Verify your policies are effective. Don’t allow your company to be without insurance due to a failure of your insurance agent to send you a renewal quote, or an internal administrative failure to make an insurance payment within your office. This sounds simple, but make sure your policies are current and in effect. All too often, I come upon snow clearing companies with insurance coverage for a legal claim.
- Verify your company is covered for snow clearing and deicing services. It is not unusual for a small snow and ice company to learn the policy of insurance secured by its insurance agent did not cover snow claims. Many landscaping policies exclude coverage for claims arising from snow clearing services. Make sure you are covered for snow clearing activity.
- Ask your insurance agent about possibly lowering your premium. The cost of coverage varies from year to year, varies based upon your loss experience, and varies from insurance carrier to insurance carrier. You may be able to secure a lower premium if you have not experienced many new claims over the past couple of snow seasons.
3. Perform pre-season site inspections: Accomplish the following:
- Inspect all new job locations, if possible on the day of or day after a rain event. Check for any drainage problems or unique site characteristics. Don’t wait until the middle of the snow season to learn of special requirements for a job site. Many legal cases arise from water traveling from piles of snow to a frequently traveled area of commercial premises. Protect yourself and avoid potential claims by understand physical site requirements.
- Visit all existing job locations and meet with the property manager or owner. Discuss any existing concerns, including timing and scope of services. Discuss the need to pre-treat if you are not authorized to do same, and discuss possibly adding to the services provided by your company. It is extremely important to stay in personal contact with your client if you want to retain your customer.
4. Verify insurance coverage for any subcontractors working for your company. If you hire subcontractors, the following is extremely important:
- Your subcontractor must have insurance coverage for snow clearing and deicing services. Verify the coverage by demanding a certificate of insurance, and require the certificate unambiguously reflect snow clearing services are covered.
- Require all subcontractors identify your company as an additional insured on a policy of insurance. There is tremendous potential benefit to your company to be identified as an additional insured, including placing responsibility on the subcontractor’s insurance company to provide a legal defense for your company in lawsuits arising from the subcontractor’s negligent acts or omissions.
- Verify the subcontractor is not utilizing the services of a second-tier subcontractor. You do not want the subcontractor hiring another company to actually perform services without your knowledge. If you allow a second-tier subcontractor, require proof of insurance coverage from the second-tier subcontractor.
- Make sure all subcontractors sign a contract or agreement with your company before any services are performed. Do not wait until the fall to secure signed agreements…start right now!