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Lawsuits-How many have you won/lost??

Discussion in 'Commercial Snow Removal' started by CMerLand, Jan 25, 2001.

  1. CMerLand

    CMerLand Senior Member
    Messages: 173

    Been wondering how much litigation has hit the folks that use this forum. How many slip and fall suits has your company been charged with and whats been your won/loss record?? How did you defense work and how did you change your operations after the suit?

    We have only been sued once and we were dismissed from the lawsuit after I filed my deposition. I did learn a tremendous amount of information from going through the experience as to what the lawyers look for and how they try to catch the contractor on the hook.

    The case was about a slip and fall of an employee at a bank location we did not have a contract to plow. We did service two other branches of that bank but were not under contract for the third. Had plowed and salted the other properties 3 or 4 times during the storms and had the plow records to back me up.

    Two days after the storm the facilities manager called and asked if we could plow and salt the driveway and walks at this third property and then maintain it for the remainder of the season. Of course I said yes and went out and did the work. Probably about 9 months later we received service that we were being sued by the person that fell.

    We were dismissed from the lawsuit because the records that we had serviced the other properties serveral times was evidence that we were thorough and completed in our performance that we were not responsible for that property. Good records and past performance came to save the day.

    Whats your experience been????

    CMerLand
     
  2. Mike Nelson

    Mike Nelson Senior Member
    Messages: 637

    Ditto on records.

    It is very important to keep tract of everything that you do.To include phone logs and every conversation you might have with the property mgrs.or anybody that counts.
    The more info you have going in to court,the better chances you have of winning.
    When you shop your insurance.ask them what their payouts are?John Allin is the real expert in this area.Good Luck
     
  3. John Allin

    John Allin PlowSite.com Addict
    Messages: 1,327

    Our insurance has paid out only one time in 22 years. They determined that it was cheaper to pay than to defend, and did so without our knowledge and/or permission. And it was done by a carrier that we only had one year. We canned them as being totally non-responsive to our needs after one year.

    I'm on an advisory board to CNA with regards to insurance and snowplowing. This is due to my involvement with ALCA. I know alot of 'ins and outs' of how to deal with insurance carriers. You'd be amazed at how much power you have with regards to this type of thing... IF... IF... you have proper records.

    Record keeping is THE key. Here, we are anal retentive about record keeping (something that Mike Nelson can attest to as he has been to our place and gone through the process we use).

    Insurance companies work for US. Tough to remember at times. But you DO have a say in what happens, especially if your records are such that you can back up what you say and want (which apparently CmerLand did do). So many contractors tell me that they are "too busy" to keep the types of records you need.

    We document every move we make, every call that comes into our office, every ton of salt applied (and where and what time).

    Interestingly enough, I was at a Binding Arbitration hearing yesterday morning. We were defending a slip and fall along with a Hospital we work for. It occurred back in 1997. The other side put on their case, so did we. The arbitors decided RIGHT there, and the case was totally dismissed. My lawyer told me that it was THE first time he has ever had that happen... right there in the room, they looked at each other and voted right there and then.

    "Ridges and Valleys" doctrine. Too long to get into now, but it is what ended the case.

    Most of the time we are let out right away as our contracts with our customers are quite specific about hold harmless stuff.
     
  4. Gordon

    Gordon Junior Member
    Messages: 19

    Very good post Mr. Allen!

    Proper records are the key in anything and as humans we are creatures of habit. So once you get into the habit of keeping a phone log---it becomes second nature. As does anything else along the lines of record keeping. Everytime I talk to a customer and if there are any changes to services that I'm providing, I let that customer know that I'm recording it in the phone log and will document it in his file when I get back to the shop. This does two things for me, it keeps the customer honest and it also shows my degree of professionalism. Every little bit helps.

    Being Anal retentive about record keeping is a MUST in this day and age. Not only for pushing snow but for everything. I would say everyone here has worked hard for what they now have and it would be a shame for some knucklehead looking for a free ride to come along and take it away because of something as simple as keeping proper records.

    The last business I worked for was sued two times, once for a very large amout. Both times it was detailed records that kept the lawsuits from going any farther than they did. So don't even try to say you don't have the time while plowing to keep the proper records--only takes a few minutes. Or would you rather spend a couple of weeks with the lawyers doing depositions.
    Gordon
     
  5. JCurtis

    JCurtis Banned
    Messages: 862

    John Allin,

    Maybe you should give us all lessons on record keeping. Your record sounds pretty good.

    Your record keeping forms and procedures should work for all of us.

    Maybe the Denver Snow and Ice symposium should have one more seminar added!!! Proper record keeping 101

    I am not kidding.
     
  6. John DiMartino

    John DiMartino PlowSite.com Veteran
    Messages: 2,154

    No suits in 14 yrs,I hope for none in the future,but you never know.
     
  7. SLC1

    SLC1 Senior Member
    Messages: 242

    We have been in business for 11 years and have had 3 lawsuits and one was paid out and was a pretty large settlement. One thing I can say is make sure that you take on properties that are not going to be large lawsuits waiting to happen. Thats what happened on that one property, there were lots of pedistrian traffic, they didn't want it serviced enough and it got us in trouble. The problem is sometimes with lawsuits is that it takes 3 years to finally get to court and then you can't always recall or find documantation to back yourself up. Learned our lesson and now are more selective in customers and also keep up on our records much better. Just My two cents
     
  8. Mark Oomkes

    Mark Oomkes PlowSite Fanatic
    Messages: 10,853

    Haven't been named in any lawsuits yet. One customer saved over $77,000 because of our recors, we didn't even know about the suit.

    We keep very good records but no phone log, how do you manage that with customers calling you on cell phones and you are out plowing?
     
  9. Majestic

    Majestic Junior Member
    Messages: 19

    No law suits yet.In every truck is a folder with schedules.Each driver goes through his schedule and writes in the time and services rendered(salt.plow etc.)after the storm I collect these schedules from the truck and keep them on file in the office for four years.We do this for every day of the year even summer,sundays holidays etc.I keep a message book beside the office phone and record every call.Even the messages from the wife and kids.(got me out of a couple I told you so situations). Our customers are given the office number as first priority.If Im out and no one is in office I tell them to leave a message,If I dont respond in 15 min. page me on my pager this gives me time to pull over before responding to the call.I generally dont give out cell phone number to customers.I also dont give out my home number although mine is listed if they look it up.I learned that three years ago when I was sitting down to Sunday dinner with guests,the phone rings my little one answered here dad its for you.A customer had me on the phone for 25 minutes over something that should have waited until Monday.Supper was cold,wife was mad I was upset,called monday put second phone line in garage and upstairs office.SUNDAYS ARE MINE.(unless its snowing)
     
  10. thelawnguy

    thelawnguy PlowSite.com Addict
    Messages: 1,011

    "They determined that it was cheaper to pay than to defend, and did so without our knowledge and/or permission. And it was done by a carrier that we only had one year. We canned them as being totally non-responsive to our needs after one year."

    This is what insurance is for. You pay them to insulate you from liability. How they accomplish that task is their discretion. Read the policy.

    I had one slip and fall claim, and to this day do not know how it turned out. The insurance co will not tell me, they say that once I hand it to them it is their responsibility. Thats the way I like it.

    Don't let your ego get in the way of good sense.
     
  11. Dusty

    Dusty Member
    Messages: 82

    For some unknow reason the insurance company will never tell you the outcome of any claim that is made against you, but your agent can & will get the information for you if you request it.
     
  12. John Allin

    John Allin PlowSite.com Addict
    Messages: 1,327

    At the risk of offending....

    I stand by my original post. Putting ones' head in the sand after turning in a claim can be disasterous. Granted, some claims don't require alot of attention.... however, some do.

    People with the attitude that "it's the insurance company's problem" and mean that they truly believe that it's totally the insurance company's problem no matter what the case - are in for a rude awakening at some point.

    If your company is ever involved in any type of fatality.... you're gonna be involved in a very big way. A VERY big way. Like it or not.

    That's bunk about not being able to find out from an insurance carrier how a case turned out. Ask for a "loss run" for the past 5 years. Law says they have to give it to you. It's yours, for Gods sake. If you want to change carriers, it's the first thing the new prospective agent will ask you for. If you cannot produce it, no quote. And if it's a bad loss ratio... no quote.

    Time after time I'm involved in cases as an expert witness, where the contractor is uncooperative and the insurance carrier deals with it. In every instance, and in all my dealings as a consultant to insurance carriers on matters regarding snow and ice issues.... insurance carriers tell me that they encourage and welcome assistance from the insured.
     
  13. Mike Nelson

    Mike Nelson Senior Member
    Messages: 637

    John is right on being cooperertive.
    Last year we had a slip and fall.I argued with the company "Don't waste my time,even with the records we keep,You pay out anyway"well push come to shove and my agent called me and said "If I didn't cooperate I would be defending myself"
    Guess what I cooperated,but I made my point they didn't pay anything...
    It was very difficult to get just snow plowing insurance when we started NYSP.We called about 8-10 different companies.Nobody wanted to do just snow.Finally we found one and they seem to be doing very well with us.
    Good Luck!
     
  14. thelawnguy

    thelawnguy PlowSite.com Addict
    Messages: 1,011

    No offense taken here.

    If the insurance co. is going to assume liability, why should you have a say in how they settle it? Seems like, in that case, you should not have submitted the claim and handled it yourself.

    It would be akin to you agreeing to keep the customers lot clear of snow, and then have them come out during a storm and say you cant plow it, you must shovel it. For the same price.

    The insurance co has a responsibility to you, the insured, to handle any claim, but they also have a responsibility to themselves to handle that claim in a way that they see as benefitting all three pares involved-you, the injured, and the insurer.

    BTW Im referencing JA's post.

    [Edited by thelawnguy on 01-26-2001 at 05:01 PM]
     
  15. Dusty

    Dusty Member
    Messages: 82

    I remember back in 1959 when I was 17 a car drove into the front of my car and when the police arrived, the driver told them that the sun was in her eyes and she couldn't see me. It was totally her fault for the accident. The only problem was that the police got the information reversed and made the report wrong. They attributed that statement to me. The woman later sued for damages and injuries and my company was ready to settle with her based on that report. It was only after I spoke up and brought a town map to the adjuster, showing that the sun was coming over my shoulder and it was impossible for me to have had the sun in my eyes, that the company reversed their offer and went to trial. It was at that trial that I had to once again convince the attorney that I was not at fault. The jury found me not responsible for the accident and awarded her nothing. It was only my insistence of my innocence that caused them to reverse course. They argued to the end that it was cheaper to pay her off, than to defend me. Luck for me, that I was able to intercede to correct an injustice by an innocent mistake by the police officer. You must be involved in all claims or many times the insurance company takes the cheap way out, without regard to your well being. They have an obligation to defend you. You have an obligation to cooperate.
     
  16. CMerLand

    CMerLand Senior Member
    Messages: 173

    Okay now am I the only one shocked about how few lawsuits were mentioned on this thread??? Its had over 350 views and I think maybe talk of only a dozen lawsuits. Are we all that good (I know some of you think you are plow gods) or is everyone afraid to talk about there experience???

    If word gets out that there arent any lawsuits going on out there the ABA my start airlifting lawyers out of NJ and having them invade your states??? This may be your last chance to save yourself so out with the stories!!!!

    CMerLand
     
  17. thelawnguy

    thelawnguy PlowSite.com Addict
    Messages: 1,011

    I think that most claims are settled by the ins co before they reach lawsuit status.

    Mine was.

    Lawsuits and associated legal bills can be frighteningly expensive even for the poor guy who did nothing wrong, hence the reason for co's to settle what to the layman may appear to be the wrong thing to do.
     
  18. Michael F

    Michael F Senior Member
    Messages: 203

    We had a slip & fall in January. Property purchasing director had us on his list. I explained to him, our contract was for snowplowing & shoveling(no ice control at all) at or above 3" or when called, they have maintenance people for sites(shovel,snowblow & salt at less). We had plowed 1/1, the guy sliped & fell 1/4, after I explained this to him, and told him I was not responsible. His response when I asked why I was even involved to me was "your the snowplowing contractor". I immeditly call my insuance agent, who sent out an ajuster to meet with me. Adjuster agreed with me, we wern't liable, he said they wern't paying anything. Thats the last I heard.

    I also asked the adjuster what his feeling was on how I felt, I felt like their maintenace guys wern't doing their job, client wanted me responsible for this. My fear was if they didn't shovel walks again, leading to packed snow or ice, then we come later, that week or somthing, we shovel, can't get walks clean, now we have been onsite, if somone slips & falls that day, we might get sued, they might get somthing, even though we did what we were contracted for.
    Needless to say, I dropped that customer at end of month(sent out certified letter giving them 2 weeks min notice).
    Bottom line if you know they should be doing more on their own, & don't want to pay you to do what their not, don't leave that window open.
    Sorry this was so long.
     
  19. John Allin

    John Allin PlowSite.com Addict
    Messages: 1,327

    It is standard procedure to name the snowplow contractor in anything like that. The adjuster (on your end) usually gets a letter that requests that they become enjoined in the suit. The adjuster then has discretion as to whether or not to "become involved". If not, he/she sends out a letter stating that the facts (which they lay out) don't warrant their involvement and the respectfully decline to participate. Often times that ends it. If "they" want to continue to involve you they have to file a formal notice to enjoin you (and your insurance company) in the action. "They" have to have some facts on their side at that point.

    This is why you participate at the beginning as you can often ward off any problems in this fasion.

    Now... sometimes the "facts" (as seen in the eyes of the plaintiff) seems to warrant your involvement from the get go, and they will then include you in a full suit. Most states carry a two year statute on these sorts of suits, which is why you don't often get notified until 18-23 months down the road. THIS is why the record keeping is so important.... it's so far down the road. Once you're named, it can go on for another 2-3 years. Memories fail, records prevail.
     
  20. GroundKprs

    GroundKprs PlowSite.com Veteran
    Messages: 5

    It comes out of your pocket

    To let the insurance company handle everything, as thelawnguy suggests, is fallacy because your claim history will affect your rates and/or insurability down the road. If the insurance company wants to settle to benefit their pocketbook, you better determine how this will financially affect you in the eyes of other insurance companies in the future. And that's not for just liability insurance, it's for any type: auto, health, workers comp, life, anything. Insurance companies are here to make a buck, not just to help you.

    If costs are up in any specific policy area for a given locale, rates in general will rise, costing you money. If major claims are paid on your account, justified or not, your next premium statemant could blow you out of the water, or maybe just out of business.