NJCJI played host to the New Jersey contingent of the Accredited Snow Contractors Association this week when ASCA came to the New Jersey State House to lobby legislators on the need for liability reform that protects their businesses from frivolous slip and fall lawsuits.
ASCA members provide snow and ice management services to business and homeowners, often in conditions many would deem the worst winter has to offer. They are our heroes during the worst winter, but they are also increasingly becoming the targets of questionable slip and fall lawsuits.
81% of all legal claims against snow and ice management companies are in the form of slip-and-fall lawsuits. A full 60% of all professional snow and ice management companies operating in New Jersey will incur at least one slip-and-fall claim each season.
ASCA members from New Jersey report that 25% of these claims are dismissed, and 63.2% of the claims not dismissed are settled out of court. 72% of the cases that are settled settle for less than $20,000. The merit of these suits is questionable because the plaintiffs never intend to see a courtroom, they are instead looking for a quick payout.
These frivolous slip and fall suits drive up insurance costs for the entire industry, not just companies that have been sued. Today, the general liability insurance expense for a snow contractor averages three times the insurance expense for similar policies.
The high cost of insurance and the risk that a lawsuit could wipe out all of a business’s assets is driving professional snow and ice managers from the market. Upstart, inexperienced, and untrained companies rush in to fill the void, creating an unsafe environment for both those providing services as well as for society in general.
The abundance of lawsuits is also driving insurance companies out of the market entirely. At this time, standard insurance carriers will not insure snow and ice management companies. Recently, excess line insurance carriers have begun leaving the snow and ice management market.
The root of this legal nightmare is New Jersey’s statute governing liability in these cases. Amending the statute to require reasonable care would place realistic expectations on property owners, service companies, and consumers; and eliminate the sue and settle culture that is crippling the snow removal industry.
NJCJI is committed to ensuring New Jersey’s civil justice system treats all parties fairly and discourages lawsuit abuse. If your organization is facing a civil liability issue you would like to take to the legislature NJCJI would like to hear from you.