By Jim Poling Sr.
From Shaman’s Rock
If you managed to find regular snowploughing for the coming winter, it likely wasn’t easy and you likely are paying more for it.
Snowplough operators big and small have been hit hard in recent years with skyrocketing liability insurance premiums. The increases have forced some to quit the business.
Some operators report that annual insurance premiums of $5,000 have soared as high as $30,000 to $50,000 a year. One North Bay operator reported his premiums increased 200 per cent, while an Orillia contractor said his went up 250 per cent.
The insurance industry says premiums are rising because of increasing injury lawsuits filed by people claiming to have slipped and fallen on uncleared snow and ice. Payouts for slip and fall claims can run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars.
The Insurance Bureau of Canada says that commercial liability coverage claims, which include snow and ice slipping incidents, increased 108 per cent in Canada between 2013 and 2020, going from $2.4 billion to $5.1 billion.
Some insurers now refuse to provide coverage to snow removal contractors, at any price.
Part of the problem has been the lengthy time limit for making liability claims against winter maintenance contractors. Anyone saying they suffered injury or property damage resulting from inadequate ploughing or sanding of private property has had two years to file a claim against the contractor’s insurer.
Property owners and winter maintenance operators have complained that they often face slip and fall lawsuits without ever having been informed that someone slipped and fell on the property.
One cited example is the notice of lawsuit filed against a business owner 23 months after the alleged incident. It was difficult to defend the suit because too much time had passed to look for witnesses, or ask staff to remember what had happened.
Municipalities, however, are given a 10-day statute of limitations for slip and fall claims. So, if you slip and fall on a town street or parking lot, you must tell the municipality within the 10-day period.
Muskoka-Parry Sound MPP Norm Miller found the 10-day versus two-year time limit difference between municipalities and private individuals and businesses so unfair that late last year he introduced a private member’s bill in the Ontario legislature. The bill, which was adopted, reduces the risk of liability by reducing the two-year period for making a claim to 60 days.
There is little evidence that the new law has reduced snowploughing liability premiums for this winter. However, it is expected to discourage frivolous and fraudulent claims, which might help to reduce premiums in coming years.
Meanwhile, there are fewer winter maintenance operators to do the ploughing and sanding this winter, which is forecast to be an especially snowy and icy one. One road association made 30 calls earlier this fall before finding a contractor available to plough and sand its road this winter.
Forecasters are predicting a snowy winter ahead because of unusual warming of the Great Lakes. They say that cold winter air passing over the warmer lakes will create much lake effect snow until the lakes begin freezing over in January or February, or perhaps not at all.
Air temperatures in the Great Lakes region have increased 1.6 degrees Fahrenheit in the past 60 years, resulting in declining ice coverage. And, the incredibly warm fall we are experiencing is adding to the prospect of little Great Lakes ice this winter.
Also, this is another La Niña year in which above-normal temperatures and significant snowfalls both are possible. Thaws and above average rainfall are forecast for January and February, interspersed with blasts of cold Arctic air, resulting in more icy surfaces.
Some folks will recall the 2007-2008 La Niña winter that brought a record number of snow events. That year the Great Lakes region recorded its third wettest winter in 61 years, with most of the precipitation being snow. Muskoka reported 558 centimetres (that’s 18 feet!) of snow.
Also, current forecasts show no signs of an early spring. March is expected to be colder than usually, with above average snowfalls.
All in all, it’s not looking to be a winter in which anyone wants to be without snow clearing and ice sanding.