By David C. Martin,
Spartan Recoveries LLC
The winter of 2015 will be re- membered in the northeast for the vast amount of snow deposited by Mother Nature.
While snow-covered roofs certainly contribute to the beauty of the season and
create a picture of serenity, new fallen
snow which melts than refreezes can
place stress on the roof of a home or business. This can also result in mixed success when it comes to recovering on paid
snow removal claims.
From a liability perspective these are
interesting cases. The essential ques-
tion which must be answered is: What
is the “reasonable standard of care” that
should be used by a worker who may be
standing in two feet of snow on a roof?
The answer to that depends on the un-
derlying circumstances of the work being
performed and how well the resulting
damages are documented. A recovery ef-
fort may not be successful if there is no
evidence to support the adverse party did
not exercise “reasonable care under the
Anyone who has ever endeavored to
shovel snow from a roof knows that there
are reasonable arguments that such care
was extended. There are also many exam-
ples of an obvious lack of care or haste on
the part of a contractor who is attempting
to clear as many roofs as possible in the
shortest period of time. Properly inves-
tigating and documenting the loss facts
pertaining to these incidents can mean
the difference between a successful recov-
ery and a claim denial.
Some of the obvious scenarios of not
using reasonable care involve the use of
sharp tools such as ice picks, snow shovels, metallic rakes or mechanical snow
removal equipment. Other poor workmanship includes improperly removing
the snow, creating unbalanced loading.
Ice, as opposed to snow, requires con-
siderably more care and effort to remove
safely. Ice usually collects in the corners
of a roof and near gutter attachments, so
a worker needs to take care not to dam-
age the fragile roofing materials and
Proper photographic evidence is key
to show the exact area where the snow
or ice had collected, was removed and
the damage that resulted. The field claims
representative should inquire whether
the insured has any pre-loss photos of
the condition to establish a reference as
to the amount of snow or ice that existed.
Photos of the roof itself in the pre-event
condition can also establish subsequent
liability and create viable evidence.
In snow removal cases, the facts as to
why the insured initially hired the contractor to remove the snow from the roof
should be established. Questions as to
whether the assignment was for ice dam
prevention — or weight relief should
be answered. The vast majority of snow
removal jobs are performed to relieve
weight load from a roof. Depending on
the height and size of the roof, the removal can often be performed from the
ground with a long-handled, non-metal-lic rake, thus avoiding potential damage
caused by walking on the roof itself. In
addition, a worker need not remove every inch of snow from a roof in order to
accomplish the goal of relieving weight.
It is prudent to be aware that shingles
are fragile, as are solar panels, which are
becoming more and more popular in
the northeast. A worker who rubs and
scrapes a roof or solar panels until every last ounce of snow is gone is likely
to cause damage. Leaving a few inches of
snow on the roof accomplishes the weight
relief goal while protecting the shingles
themselves…and not doing so could reasonably be construed as negligence in the
event damage results from direct contact
with the shingles.
As in most subrogation efforts, understanding the standard for “reasonable
care,” developing a theory of negligence,
gathering evidence and performing a
thorough investigation makes the difference in success or failure.