Important Facts about Snow Plow Insurance

September 15, 2017

plowing snow in stormIt’s beginning to look a lot like… snow? Yup, that’s right. Autumn snow is not unheard of in New England. You might remember the fall nor’easter of 2011, when Western Massachusetts saw more than a foot of wet snow, while Eastern residents struggled with icy roads, downed trees and power lines.  So if you haven’t done so already, take advantage of the late summer lull—after the major lawn and garden work, but before leaf cleanup begins—to address the coverage you’re missing: snow plow insurance.

Here are a few facts that many landscapers (pavers, pool contractors, and other seasonal professionals) don’t know about buying insurance for snow plowing:

Will my commercial auto insurance cover me when plowing snow?

It depends. If you already have commercial auto insurance for your company truck(s), you may be covered for theft, vandalism, damage to the plow, damage to the vehicle, or damage to other vehicles/property that are involved in a collision event. However, you still need to contact your insurance agent because:

  • Commercial auto coverage is not designed to protect you against general liability claims. (See below for more information on general liability and snow plowing.)
  • If the plow/hitch wasn’t already included in your policy, your agent needs to know that the value of your property has increased.

I don’t own a business. I just plow snow on the side. Will my personal auto insurance policy cover me?

If you are using your personal vehicle to plow snow for profit, you definitely need to supplement your MA car insurance coverage. You also need to acquire your commercial driver’s license (CDL) and commercial plates for your truck. Finally, your agent will need to adjust your operator class to 30, or “Business Use” class.  Your auto premium will likely change on a pro-rated basis.

I already have general liability coverage for my business. Does that policy cover me for snow/ice-related claims?

No, not unless your company is exclusively devoted to snow/ice management, and you purchased Massachusetts business insurance for this specific purpose. Most snow removal contractors practice another kind of work during warmer months (e.g. landscaping, paving, etc.). This means their policies are not designed to address the added risks of operating plow equipment in stormy conditions.

If someone falls in a parking lot you cleared, or if someone slips on a patch of ice created by the runoff of snow you piled, you may be liable. And your landscaper’s insurance policy will not apply. Instead, you need to have a specific endorsement added for “completed operations” coverage.

Are there different types of snow plow insurance?

Yes! And there are different amounts of protection available, too. Recommended coverages may include:

  • Commercial Auto Insurance
  • Business Owners Policy and/or Added Endorsements
  • Umbrella Insurance
  • Hired and Non-Owned Insurance
  • Workers’ Compensation

The types and levels of insurance you need will depend on when, where, and how often you work. For example, do you plow residential surfaces or parking lots versus public streets and roads? If you run a large operation,  you may want to think about your liability limits. (Does it make sense to set separate limits for large jobs and individual contracts? Possibly yes.) Your best bet is to discuss all the variables with a Massachusetts insurance agent.

I have a crew that helps me plow snow, but they use their own trucks and plows. Do I need to insure them?

This is an important question. Our friends at Acadia Insurance address snow plow subcontractors this way:

“Require your subcontractors to furnish you with Certificates of Insurance and require that their liability limits be at least equal to your limits. Ask them to give you a copy of their insurance policies… Have a contract in place with your subs that includes indemnification language and an obligation that you be named as an additional insured on a primary basis under their policy.  Look for proof of this when you request a copy of their policy.”

You may also want to consider purchasing “Hired and Non-Owned” insurance for liability protection that covers your employees’ personally owned vehicles. Ask your agent what makes sense for you.

Finally, if you have employees removing snow with you, you need to be sure you carry the appropriate MA workers’ comp insurance.

Why do snow removal contractors, in Massachusetts especially, need to be mindful about insurance coverage?

You may have read that some New England states do not hold snow plow contractors or operators responsible for third party injuries. But Massachusetts is not one of those states. Here, plaintiffs generally can file actions against snow removal contractors. (Likewise in Connecticut and Vermont.) And in fact, Massachusetts laws have been revised in recent years, putting more “duty of care” responsibilities on property owners and their snow removal contractors. You can read more about the case that changed the law in Massachusetts when a Danvers man fell in a Target parking lot.

How much does snow plow insurance cost?

In many cases, the cost to add snow plowing insurance is affordable even for a small landscaping business. Further, you can help to ensure that your rates don’t go up for subsequent years by following best practices in snow/ice management and reviewing some of the industry’s risk management resources.

Since we work with many Massachusetts landscapers, we understand that snow plow insurance is probably not your top priority. But we urge you to call us at 508.339.2951 before the first flakes arrive; our teams make getting the right coverage fast and easy.