How slip-and-fall lawsuits in the city have halted snow plows in cottage country

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For 20 straight winters, contractor Wayne Shelley cleared driveways and roads in Halliburton County. It wasn’t just a job for him – it was a civic duty. Many county roads are not maintained by municipalities in winter and a large proportion of local people retire who need assistance.

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This year his snow plow will be useless. For Shelley and many snow removal contractors like him, insurance costs have risen to such an extent that it has become impossible to cover it.

“It was very difficult to leave because I feel very, very obliged to people,” Shelley said. “I’ve done it for them for so many years. It’s never been very financially rewarding, but it’s an essential service. It’s something that people need, and now very few of us have it.” are capable of.”


Four days before she was scheduled to renew her insurance last year, Shelley learned that a company she had been with for decades would no longer cover snow plows. He found another company, but wanted to increase his rate by $4,000, or about 70 percent, despite the fact that Shelley had never made a claim against him in all his years of plowing. Then, the company wanted to raise costs again this year. Shelly didn’t even get a quote – he knew then he’d have to hang it up.

“What they told us is that even though we are in a cottage country where there are rarely any claims, they are basing their rates on the fact that there are more slip and fall lawsuits in cities.” “I think everyone is looking for that fast-money lawsuit so they can retire early and not have to work. But I don’t see how that should apply to us because it’s not happening in our area.” “

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Tony Prentiss of Tom Prentiss & Sons Trucking suffered a $5,000 snow plow insurance increase last year. His company still offers the service, but it is one of the few.

“There is hardly anyone doing the plowing – there is a real shortfall now because of insurance costs,” he said, “it has become harder for contractors – people who just have a truck and a blade to drive through cottage roads every winter. Now they’re all getting out of it.”

Prentice and Shelley said insurance prices are now so high that many contractors must increase their fees to remove snow past the point of affordability for residents. A job that used to cost $25 has more than tripled and “people are scraping just that,” Prentice said.

“Many people retire on fixed income,” Shelly said. “To charge $80 to do a driveway — I can’t bring myself to do it. That’s what it would cost to have insurance on the vehicle and cover wear and tear.”

Greg Raymond, CEO of Insurance Hero, an Ontario brokerage, said he has seen the number of companies willing to offer snow plow insurance in the province 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 often, but the severity is also increasing so the payoff is even higher. It costs insurance companies a lot of money to defend and cover these claims.”

Raymond said insurers across the board are exiting less profitable, riskier areas like snow removal. Both the rising cost of claims and the decrease in return on investment over the past two years have caused the Canadian insurance industry to be far more selective in how it prepares to offer coverage.

So, who’s filing all these slip-and-fall suits? And why are snow removers liable?

“Typically, it’s customers from businesses that have parking lots by snow removal contractors,” Raymond said. “If Walmart hires a contractor to clear their lot and someone falls in the way of the store, that person will sue Walmart but also bring in the snow removal contractor. That contractor and their insurance provider.” But there is responsibility and responsibility.

“And it can’t be the snow removal operator’s fault — they’ll still get dragged into that lawsuit and defend themselves, even if it’s trivial.”

And why would the claims be rising? Is snow becoming plow-resistant, ice forming faster?

“It’s not that contractors are doing worse, the industry is just getting more contentious,” Raymond said. “Personal injury lawyers have become more proactive.”

To add another layer of injustice to Shelley’s business, she is also barred from voluntarily plowing the snow.

Without snow removal insurance, Shelley cannot clear an elderly neighbor’s driveway for free without risking loss of insurance coverage on other aspects of his construction work.

“It bothers me that people I’ve known for so long are now struggling to find people,” he said. “I checked with the insurance company and even if someone is really stuck or in an emergency, if I’m found to have resolved, my entire policy falls through.”

Cabin owner Neil Campbell said many people living in the county are wondering how they can stay in their homes this winter. He said that during the pandemic, many cottages on the lakes leading up to the back roads have become year-round homes.

Campbell said, “For the homeowner, in addition to the difficulty of traversing an unpaved road for groceries, the question will be how to find emergency services when help is needed.” “I’ve been told that many home insurance policies state that your fire insurance is invalid if road access is unavailable.”

Shelly said this is a big reason why reliable snow removal services are so important to the community.

“Even people who have cottages that don’t go into them at all in winter, if they can’t get fire engines there and a fire starts, it can be a big problem,” he said. said.

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

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