In an effort to educate and inform the readers of this tremendous magazine, I write a column discussing somewhat complex and technical areas such as defense and indemnification, insurance coverage, and litigation strategy. In truth, these are areas demanding my attention on a daily basis, but areas where you should have little or no regular involvement. As the owner or operator of a snow and ice management company, you should be guided by a simple rule, behave as you would expect a reasonable person or wise man to act. A few golden rules are below.
When you are considering bidding on a new job, take a look at the job site. Understand what may make this job unique or somewhat challenging, and include any concerns in your discussion with the property owner or management company. When pricing the job, make sure you are billing a reasonable amount for what needs to be performed to properly perform the job. Bill too little and you will be unhappy, bill too much and you will lose a customer.
Make sure you read any contract before you sign it. Very simply, it is silly to sign a document you do not understand. If necessary, take the contract to an attorney and have him or her review it. Saving a few dollars on attorney fees does not make sense when you compare it to the potential damage suffered by signing a contract with unfair and/or unfavorable terms.
Make sure there is a contract. I continue to stress, column after column, the importance of a written contract. The contract can be one page, and it can be basic in its terms, but there must be a contract.
Understand it is a mistake to agree to defend and indemnify anyone for their own negligence. In essence, you are saying that even if something is not your fault, you will accept responsibility. A wise man would not enter into this agreement.
Make sure you have a policy of insurance covering you. Lawsuits are common, and the more work you perform, the greater chance you will be sued. Get a good insurance broker and get proper insurance. Performing snow clearing and deicing services without insurance coverage is asking for trouble. You don’t have to be a wise man to understand this.
Make sure your customer is happy. Talk with your customer during the snow season, and make sure services are performed to your customer’s satisfaction. A positive relationship with your customer will decrease the possibility of litigation over your services, and will lead to continued and possibly additional business. Communication is the key to a good business relationship with your customers.
Promptly address any problems. If your customer calls you during a storm event and complains about services, make sure you immediately remedy the situation. I frequently see lawsuits where a build-up of ice or an accumulation of snow is left on a property, a complaint is presented by the management company to the snow clearing contractor, and later that day, a person suffers an injury. A wise man would make sure services are properly performed, and any complaints are immediately addressed.
Always inspect your work before leaving any job location, and if there are areas you could not address, such as areas in a parking lot blocked by parked vehicles, bring the situation to the attention of your customer. It is much easier to make sure your customer knows there is a problem area, and for you to return once the area is accessible, than to simply ignore a potential dangerous condition. Always err on the side of giving your customer too much information, as opposed to too little information.
Make sure it is clearly understood who is responsible to inspect property. Whether the inspection is performed immediately after snow clearing and deicing services are performed, the day after services are performed, or whenever weather conditions warrant, you need a clear understanding of inspection responsibility. This really is not complicated, as the goal is to make sure the premises are safe, you just need to understand whether you are responsible to inspect, or whether the owner or management company of the premises will inspect. There is no reason you cannot be paid for performing inspections, just make sure there is a written agreement reflecting same.
Keep records of all your services. It is silly to think you will remember the services you performed a year after a snow event. Keep the records in a safe and convenient location, so if you need to access the records, they will be available.
If you are served with suit papers, turn the suit papers over to your insurance company or agent. Don’t let the suit papers sit on your desk, or in a trash can next to your desk. Ignoring a lawsuit is never a good idea.
Enjoy your hard work, enjoy your success, and e-mail me with any questions. As the wise man says, a wise man can learn more from a foolish question than a fool can learn from a wise answer.