Even if you or your staff take on the responsibility of dealing with the snow and ice on your property yourselves, from a liability standpoint, hiring a proper professional contractor is absolutely essential in order to protect your property from any liability incurred in case of a slip and fall, or any other complications. In the event of legal proceedings due to a slip and fall on your property, the property owner will be judged to not have been maintaining their due diligence to provide proper duty of care by failing to have a professional contractor with an adequate contract and liability insurance carry out the work for you.
In a court of law, the property owner's duty of care will be determined by the type of property they own, the amount of traffic, number of visitors or residents, and what should reasonably be expected for that type of property to keep it safe. A residential house will obviously require a much lower level of snow removal service, than say, a gas station in order to keep it safe, so it is important to keep in mind that each property will require a different level of service in order for the owner to be judged as having provided reasonable duty of care. Many property and business owners use their staff or hire residents to perform snow removal work. The fact is, even if the job is always performed adequately and on time, without a proper contractor you are not personally free from the liability of someone, including your snow clearer, hurting themselves. Any incidents arising from a snow or ice related mishap while using members of your own staff, or any other uninsured party (as opposed to a properly licensed and insured contractor) will in fact be deemed your responsibility.
A snow removal agreement that appears as not much more than an invoice or bill of sale will not protect you in a dispute with your contractor or in the event of personal injury or property damage.
Tip: As a property owner or occupier, you are completely liable for any injuries or losses that occur on any portion of your property, including parking lots, walkways, city sidewalks, steps, doorways, patios, etc. Having a properly insured contractor with a written paper contract is a must in order to transfer this liability over.
Tip: The Canadian court system is very serious about personal safety on private property, and you will face stiff judgments if found to be guilty of not maintaining adequate duty of care on your property. You can read the full Occupiers Liability Act by clicking here.
Consider this very common example regarding the issue: A live-in landlord (who handles many aspects of their building's maintenance) goes to bed, and there is no snow in the immediate forecast. He wakes up the next day at 7:00AM, steps outside, and a flash freeze had occurred through the night. One or more of the early morning commuters who take to the streets at 6:00AM has fallen. This situation has been prevented in many of the surrounding buildings due to their contracted snow removal service maintaining a 24/7 weather watch, and a de-icing product was therefore applied automatically by their servicemen at some point throughout the night. The ownership of the apartment building using the landlord to clear snow and ice would thereby be deemed negligent, ultimately resulting in any number of potential lawsuits. In a day and age where slip and fall lawsuits are steadily on the rise, it is an absolute necessity to protect yourself from liability by hiring the correct professional service to care for your property's snow and ice removal.
Unfortunately, it's not just a matter of hiring the first or least expensive contractor you encounter. It is very important to read and understand their contract, and to ensure that what you are buying maintains the appropriate amount of coverage for your property. A vague and simplistic agreement between you and an appointed contractor to clear your ice and snow will not be enough to prove that due diligence was performed in maintaining your property. Read the contract, and fully understand the scope of work to be performed. Is it reasonable for your type of property? It's important for you to be aware of the contractor's ability to properly perform the work, and the scope of the work to be clearly laid out in the contract. Ultimately, their professionalism and the type of resources they have at their disposal is of paramount importance, and the contract should leave no debate in regards to service times or what constitutes a snow or ice event.
For some property managers or property owners, it seems like a good idea to ask a prospective contractor for a couple of references to contact to inquire about the quality of their service. The information that the references provide, however, may not always give a true picture of what the contractor is like, as some contractors have friends or family members who will act as their references. Often a more telling insight into the level of service that the contractor provides is what type of properties the contractor is providing services for. Look for a company which services high-priority, high-traffic locations such as health care centres, hospitals, major retailers, large educational institutions; the type of property which ultimately will refuse to provide references for unreliable contractors.
Tip: Ensure your contractor maintains an insured and legal labour force, and does not hire any 'under the table' workers. If an 'under the table' worker is injured on your property, you may be held liable for their injuries or damages. To protect yourself as the property occupier, your contractor should only use properly hired, trained, and WSIB certified labour. WSIB clearance certificates should be always available upon request.