Winter can be tough, especially on private property, and no one knows that better than Stroud Township, Pennsylvania, resident Pamela Wnuk.
She says her property sustained damage after a municipal snowplow driver tore apart the entire length of road at the front of her residence last month.
“The plow went so far into my property that it not only tore up the road lip but also took part of my lawn,” she said. “Any closer and the plow would have taken down two pine trees.”
The incident marked the second time in four years that a municipal snowplow caused damage to Wnuk’s home, she said. After the first incident in 2009, Wnuk said township officials paid to repair the damage. She’s seeking remuneration for last month’s incident.
Messages left for Stroud supervisors were not returned. However, according to the township’s ordinance, residents are asked to wait until the snowplows have made two or three passes before clearing snow from the end of their driveways.
Mailboxes often are the first objects damaged because of snowplows, and the ordinance notes that the township isn’t responsible for digging them out if they are covered with snow.
The damage to Wnuk’s property isn’t unique and, depending upon the situation, the municipality or the resident’s homeowner’s insurance company should cover the cost of damages, officials said.
“It also depends on the definition of damage,” said Cathryn Thomas, borough manager in Stroudsburg. “Was something on the person’s property in the right of way? Where one municipality may have a policy that covers damage, it is a case-by-case issue,” said Thomas, who noted that residents also must take care to clear areas of objects that could impede snowplows.
“The individuals who go out and plow work hard and long hours,” Thomas said. “The residents really have no idea what they face. We’ve had a plow out of service because it ran over a baking sheet, which destroyed the plow, and we’ve had a plow run over a rug that was buried in the snow in which someone left out, so the plow sat for a while, and residents complained that snow removal wasn’t fast enough.”
Also, while most homeowner’s insurance policies do cover damages, it may not pay for residents to make a claim.
“There are endorsements in Pennsylvania which allow you to make a claim, but that is, of course, subject to your deductible,” said Dave Phillips, a spokesman for State Farm insurance. “But if the plowing is done by a mom and pop company or some friend or individual, than there may be small business insurance claims that could be made against them. It’s safe to say, though, that if you have insurance, you are covered, but it’s likely going to be shy of policy limits and deductibles.”
Phillips said most municipalities also are protected from liability claims, in part, because they are performing taxpayer-funded duties.
Officials at the Insurance Information Institute said coverage in Pennsylvania for homeowners would include damage done by snowplows but, like Phillips, they said the cost of the deductible in the average policy would probably outweigh the claim.
Officials from Tobyhanna Township, Pocono Township and others said there are standing ordinances regarding damages to property caused by municipal snowplows.
Pocono Township officials have encouraged residents to place their mailboxes four feet from roadways and to inspect them and other property to be assured that they’re sturdy and in good repair.
Residents whose property abuts township roads are reminded not to place any type of private property, including landscaping shrubbery, fences, light posts or mailboxes, in the right of way, according to the Tobyhanna ordinance, which also notes that the township is not responsible for any damage caused by road maintenance or snowplowing to any private property located in the right of way.
“The snowplow blades on most of the trucks are 12 feet in width and just under five feet in height, which creates a great deal of force when plowing the snow,” said Phyllis Haase, township manager and emergency management coordinator for Tobyhanna Township. “This is certainly a topic that will be part of many a conversation from now until the warm weather returns.”