Why the cost of snow removal will still be high this winter

A snowplow in action By danymages/Shutterstock

Individual cottagers and road associations that rely on private snowplow operators have seen contract costs spike over the last five years. Like everything else in the economy, wages, fuel, and vehicle expenses have increased. But high insurance premiums remain the biggest factor in sending snowplow costs upward. “My yearly premium can be $15,000 on top of the common general liability we are required to hold,” says Bob Barnhart, the co-owner of Barnhart Sand and Gravel in Dwight, Ont., who has about 140 customers and runs seven plow trucks. “And that’s if you can get the coverage at all. Some insurance companies do not want snowplow operators as clients.”

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The big driver of snowplow premiums is slip-and-fall injury claims. In an attempt to protect business owners who serve as occupiers and independent contractors, the government passed Bill 118 in 2020. It makes changes to Ontario’s Occupiers’ Liability Act, specifically to the time in which to file a damage claim. Previously, claims had to be brought within two years of an incident, which gave a significant advantage to injury claimants to collect evidence and prepare a case. But Bill 118 requires claims to be submitted within 60 days of an incident. The idea is that the shortened timeline will discourage frivolous claims and also allow defendants (insurance companies) to gather evidence by locating witnesses, collecting statements, and obtaining CCTV footage—information that is difficult to obtain after two years.

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The effects of Bill 118 have not yet been widely realized, so in addition to increasing liability premiums, many insurers are seeking other ways to minimize risk. “We won’t even provide a quote for a snowplow operator unless they have three years prior insurance driving elsewhere as well as a very detailed customer contract with a ‘hold harmless’ agreement in place,” explains Carlee Northover, a commercial insurance advisor with Co-operators in Haliburton and Huntsville, Ont. (A hold harmless agreement absolves parties from liability.) At Co-operators, the minimum premium for any form of snow removal is approximately $5,000, whether you are plowing with a truck or using a shovel. Add another premium to spread de-icing agents. “A lot of the smaller guys are getting out because plowing is unaffordable,” says Northover. “And I think a lot of them simply go ahead and operate without insurance.”

So, until Bill 118 has its desired effect or insurers decide the risk from plowing is more acceptable to them, snow plowing services will be expensive and hard to get. “We turn down snow clearing work every day,” says Barnhart. “So if you currently have a snowplow operator, you’d better hold on to them.”

This article was originally published in the Winter 2023 issue of Cottage Life.

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