Olivier Le Moal

Finally, you landed the property you’ve been wanting for years. The money is right, and your team is ready. Now it’s time to sit down with the client.

As you get to know one another – maybe even for the first time — you discuss expectations going forward and the quirks of the job. Then comes the stack of papers, the legal documents we all know as a contract or service agreement. They hand it over and you flip through it, briefly running your eyes over each page. Then you see that nine-letter, four-letter word — INDEMNIFY.

Indemnification and hold-harmless language in contracts is more and more common in today’s increasingly litigious society. Some snow and ice management contracts even state you must indemnify and hold harmless all entities who have ever been associated with regarding the property.

Truth be told, many snow professionals have signed and agreed to hold-harmless language at some point in our professional histories. If we don’t, then someone else inevitably will. That is how they get away with it. Consequently, we place our companies at risk and take the blame for anything and everything that can be pushed down the trough to the contractor.

So, what’s next? Now, make sure your company is legally and operationally prepared should ANY slip-and-fall incidents occur.

In most snow markets, if you shake a tree, then a guy with a plow truck and a pen likely will fall out of it. There is no shortage of guys with the equipment and the ambition to do the work, but do they have the proper qualifications to execute the service contracts? This is what differentiates his way of operating from yours.

Stop and think about it. Take away the shiny new equipment and the “Since 1978” on the company logo and what’s left to separate the two companies? Maybe the better question a property owner or potential client needs to ask is who is more susceptible to be found negligent should a slip-and-fall claim arise?

From my experience, the insurance companies and litigation attorneys don’t care if you’re the big, shiny company with multiple locations, or the two cousins who learned to plow watching YouTube videos. Both, more or less, are red flags and prime targets.

Therefore, you must be prepared to defend yourself regardless, and the fact of the matter is that the processes and procedures your company follows mean everything. The Industry Standards for Professional Snow and Ice Management, as set forth by the members of the Accredited Snow Contractors Association (ASCA), clearly identifies the steps a snow and ice management operation must take to protect itself from losses due to slip-and-fall claims. The Industry Standards define all aspects of properly operating your business, from the basics of snow and ice management and training to in-event and post-event inspections.

It’s important to remember that doing the right things starts before the service contract is ever signed. Following the Industry Standards and its recommendations for documentation processes and procedures should be woven in every fiber of your operations.

For example, when you are on site preparing the bid, you should also be identifying risk areas, areas to pile snow and hours of operations that may dictate the amount of resources needed to do the job completely and correctly. Taking pictures of any risk areas or items that are unique to the site, existing damage or low areas for water to pool and freeze are necessary. In the process of taking pictures, identifying risk and planning to manage the site, not only protects the company legally, operations and profits are positively affected. The more prepared and informed the crews are increases their productivity and decreases time on site which, of course, raises morale.

In-event and post-event documentation is where the story of each service lives. It is vital to keep record of each event with words, timestamps, pictures and even drawings or diagrams if necessary. There cannot be enough focus put on the importance of proper documentation of each event.

So, as you plan the strategic direction for your emerging snow and ice management company, you must determine whether you’ll follow a proven path that will allow you to defend against one-sided contracts and frivolous lawsuits, or choose a lesser option that may bring only a rush of short-term success, but in the end makes you a target for greed and exploitation.

Kyle Rose is the president of Rose Property Maintenance in Shawnee, Kan.