Weather-related conditions create additional hazards for commercial and habitational property owners who are responsible for ensuring that all walkways and driveways in front of the building and parking lots are safe. For example, in apartment complexes, residents are not responsible for snow and ice removal. The property owner or holding company is responsible for this, and tenants are within their rights to notify law enforcement if the removal is not done.
Snow and ice increase the risk of a person experiencing a slip and fall, which can result in common injuries such as brain trauma, broken bones and abrasions – and potential litigation against the property owner for negligence.
Preventing Slips & Falls
There are actions property owners can take to help prevent slips and falls and reduce their liability. Here are some tips you can share with your insureds:
- Comply with your city’s ordinance requiring building owners to remove snow within a certain time period once it has stopped falling completely. For example, some cities may require building owners to remove the snow within 24 hours while others may have an 18-hour limit.
- Prior to the season’s first snowfall, be sure you have a plan in place. As a property owner, you should either own equipment for snow removal or have an agreement in place with a local contractor to remove the ice within the required timeframe. In the event that snow or ice is still present after the time limit, you may be fined.
- All exterior walkways, parking lots and building entrances should be cleared of snow and ice, and treated with “ice melt” products.
- Snow and ice that has been removed should be placed in areas that will minimize hazards as it melts, for example, in lower elevations of the property.
- Storm drains should be marked with reflective stakes before winter weather begins, so they can be kept clear to drain off melting water.
- Exterior walkways, parking lots and building entrances should be inspected periodically throughout the day and re-treated as needed. Ice and snow often melt in sunnier areas or during warmer parts of the day, and refreeze in shady areas or as the day gets colder. Drains can become clogged, causing melt water to build up.
- Take a look around your parking lot, sidewalks, and other areas of the property where visitors frequently go and check exterior lighting conditions. Nearly 33% of commercial business slip and fall injuries occur in parking lots. Invest in ample exterior lighting.
- Have “Wet Floor” signs and mats strategically placed by the entrances and in other known slippery areas to reduce the tracking of ice and snow into the building.
If a third-party vendor maintains the property, be sure your contract stipulates that you are named as an additional insured on the vendor’s liability policy. In addition, be sure your insurance program adequately covers you, including having an Umbrella policy that will respond in the event of a serious injury that could result in a multi-million-dollar lawsuit.