In Northeast Ohio, mild winters are often a source of celebration for everyone, except for commercial snow removal providers, school children (and teachers?) and winter sports enthusiasts. Commercial property and facilities managers certainly appreciate the ease on their operating budgets during mild winters. Moreover, less snow typically means less headaches in general. But believe it or not, there is a danger associated with mild winters. This danger has everything to do with what George Melchior terms “snow bias.” For commercial snow removal providers and property managers alike, mild winters should be taken more seriously. Period.
When it doesn’t actively snow, everyone lets their guard down, including commercial snow removal providers. Snow accumulation acts indirectly as a warning that winter is very real, along with the hazards we typically associate with it. Yet when there is no snow, because most of us prefer it that way, we almost forget that winter hazards still exist. As the saying goes, where there’s smoke, there’s fire. Well, if there’s no snow, we act as if we have a false sense of protection from winter dangers, like ice. But we do so at our own peril.
Studies have revealed that ice-related slip-and-fall claims actually increase when annual snowfall is relatively low. This inverse relationship proves that “snow bias” is very real. To be true, it is evident that commercial snow removal operations are treated differently during mild winters than during active ones. Commercial property managers overlook the liability of mild winters and pedestrians too are less cautious. Independently, these factors are negligent; as a whole, they are dangerous.
Mid-season client surveys conducted recently revealed evidence of this “snow bias,” which is one of the reasons this cautionary tale was penned. But even though our clients have not seen us remove snow all that often this season, they have seen us very active on the ice front. Reputable commercial snow removal firms understand that ice and snow are two different hazards that need to be treated accordingly. The number of anti- and de-icing events this year have actually been on par with a “normal” Northeast Ohio winter.
If ice-related slip-and-fall injuries are more prevalent during mild winters, then the price to pay for “snow bias” can be very grave. Studies have demonstrated that one slip-and-fall claim on a commercial property can cost more than the entire seasonal contract. In Ohio, slip-and-fall premises liability claims are somewhat difficult to prove for the plaintiff, however, they can cost employers in excess of $40,000. Not to mention the negative impact from workers compensation and other insurance premiums.
This liability should be taken seriously, even if our mild winters are not. Commercial snow removal operations should be geared up and prepared no differently. The same is true for property managers considering the costs. And just because winter boots are still stowed away in the coat closet, pedestrians should exercise caution as well and be on guard for ice.