The “bomb cyclone” that hit in early January blanketed the East Coast in ice and snow. A predictable rash of slip-and-falls soon followed. Was your co-op or condo’s insurance policy up to snuff? “Bodily injury is part of general liability,” explains Edward J. Mackoul, president of the insurance agency Mackoul & Associates. “Most policies are called package policies, which have a property side and a liability side. The liability side is where covered suits would be [spelled out], whether it be a slip-and-fall or trip-and-fall, any kind of bodily injury or property damage caused by the insured.”
Most buildings leave it to their super or other staff to ensure that the sidewalks are shoveled and properly salted. According to Department of Sanitation guidelines, if snowfall ends:
• Between 7 A.M. and 4:59 P.M., sidewalks must be cleared within 4 hours.
• Between 5 P.M. and 8:59 P.M., sidewalks must be cleared within 14 hours.
• Between 9 P.M. and 6:59 A.M., sidewalks must be cleared by 11 A.M.
In addition to these rules, Mackoul suggests that boards protect themselves by keeping a log of when the staff shovels and salts walkways. “That helps,” he says, “because if there’s a slip-and-fall at 10 and we know that it was shoveled and salted at 9:45, they did their job. You can’t be out there continuously. But if it can be shown that they’re out doing their job, that certainly could help as a defense.”
Boards should also be aware of the dangers when snow and ice are tracked into the building. Barbara Strauss, executive vice president at York International, an insurance agency, says there are simple things that boards can do to mitigate liability. “You should place warning signs, visible from all angles, on wet floors,” she says. “You should use water-absorbent mats to soak up rain, snow, and slush. You should position low-profile fans to dry the floors faster. And make sure the fan’s out of the way so nobody trips over it.”
The best way to protect your building from slip-and-fall claims? Video surveillance. “If there’s no cameras or no one there to really dispute the story,” says Kenny Boddye, senior marketing specialist at Kevin Davis Insurance, “then [claimants get] a lot bigger leg to stand on when they sue the association. But if there’s a camera that shows, ‘No, our guys were out there before you were even up walking around. They salted the walkways properly,’ they have a much lesser leg to stand on.”