In 2010, D.C., Maryland and Virginia were paralyzed by historic records of snowfall. In addition to the general headaches of traffic jams, school closings, and lack of power and services, community associations had to deal with snow removal. Snowstorms in community associations often result in busted budgets, slippery sidewalks and parking lots, and the possibility of a slip-and-fall lawsuit. So how can a community association protect itself?
Budgets: Community association must carefully budget for snow removal. While thus far in 2013 we have not had a major snow event, who knows what lies ahead. When creating budgets, community associations should take into consideration the amount budgeted for snow removal the previous year and anticipated snow removal for the current year. If necessary, try to offset any snow removal budget deficit by determining if there was any snow removal surplus from the previous year. Likewise, the association should consider how it would like to be billed by its snow removal contractor. The contract may allow for the association to be billed by the hour, by the event, by the inches of snow and ice, or by a pre-determined contract amount. Knowing the method of billing beforehand will greatly assist the association with budgeting for snow removal. Moreover, since community associations cannot predict weather to come, to help minimize the unexpected, community associations should consider setting aside money in their reserve operating account for above-average snow and ice occurrences.
Standard of care: In addition to budgeting for snow removal, community associations should take measures to ensure that the snow removal contractor is competent and responsive. Make an effort to check the contractor’s references and reputation in the community, as well as consulting legal counsel for review of the snow removal contract. When it comes to liability for slip-and-fall accidents, community associations cannot solely rely on a snow removal contractor to clear ice and snow. If a contractor is negligent in failing to clear common areas, parking lots and sidewalks, the association can be held liable for that negligence.
Likewise, associations must also make an effort to clear away snow and ice if a contractor fails to do so. It isn't enough to rely just on your contractor. Depending on the maintenance responsibilities set forth in the governing documents, association employees or owners may need to shovel and salt the common areas around their units or lots. In addition, the Board of Directors and management need to keep an eye on conditions throughout the property. Community associations should document efforts to clean up hazardous conditions such as when and where areas were cleared of ice and snow, how salt or sand was applied, and other pertinent information regarding weather conditions. While it is impossible to guarantee that the association will never be sued for a slip and fall accident, with a little bit of care and attention, the association may have a better chance of defending against any lawsuit that may be filed.