Baseball Rule Under Attack in Idaho, Indiana

Written by PC News on . Posted in Field Safety, Insurance, Litigation

In February 2013, the Idaho Supreme Court declined to apply what is informally called the “Baseball Rule”.  Arising out of almost 150 years of litigation, the baseball rule, generally speaking, held that a team is not liable to spectators for injuries caused by batted or thrown balls.  The rationale behind this decision is the idea that watching baseball is an inherently dangerous activity done at the spectator’s own risk.  In various cases this rule has been applied to hockey and other stadium premises liability cases where the injury arises from the sporting activity itself.  This is a slightly different, but related rule, to the principle that participants in sporting events consent to the usual contacts of the sport.  The Idaho Supreme Court decided that the legislature, and not the courts, should decide whether immunity from liability should exist for sporting organizations.  Because no immunity statute existed, the court permitted the lawsuit to proceed.

The universal application of this rule over time should cause concern in the sporting community whenever there is potential erosion of both this specific rule and other sports related exceptions to general legal liability.  This week, the Indiana Supreme Court will consider whether to affirm an appellate court’s application of the Baseball Rule, and dismiss a spectator’s injury suit, or follow Idaho’s lead and permit the suit to go forward.

The potential shift in spectator liability law should serve as a reminder to all organizations that host sports competitions, that the best policy is one of accident prevention.  Coupling sound design and seating policies with appropriate warnings and any other reasonable safeguards is sound practice, even if the Baseball Rule survives in your jurisdiction.  We should always remember that common law rules are always subject to change and should not serve to excuse putting good risk management practices in place!

At Placek Consulting, we can help your organization assess and address premises risk.

Seattle Swim Coach’s Conduct Leads to $5 Million in Losses

Written by PC News on . Posted in Coaches, Insurance, Litigation, Molestation, Volunteer Management, Volunteer Screening

More than a decade after firing their swim coach, a Seattle area Parks and Recreation District has settled three molestation lawsuits for a total of almost $5 million (Full Story Here).  A fourth suit was recently filed by yet another victim.  The coach, who worked in Seattle in the mid-90s, was later arrested in California for sexual abuse spanning a nearly thirty year period.  Indeed, one of the charges involved a swimmer allegedly impregnated by the coach before he was even employed in Seattle.  The coach is currently serving a 40 year prison sentence in California.

As is common in these cases, news reports indicate potential risk management warning signs.  According to the lawsuits, a number of parents, including one who was a parks commissioner at the time, raised concerns about King’s behavior toward his young female swimmers. He was often seen with a young girl seated on his lap during swim practices, and was known to take girls to dinner and send them flowers. This type of favoriting and gifting is common grooming behavior.  The lawsuits all alleged the district failed to adequately look into King’s background before hiring him, then failed to conduct annual reviews of his performance that could have led to his firing.  These allegations are consistent with the failure to screen and failure to supervise claims seen in many suits against volunteer youth sports organizations.

At Placek Consulting, we work to create policies to protect children and volunteers by creating open and transparent relationships.  We assist with training and communication with your volunteers and constituents to create a culture of child protection.  Let us review your current policies or assist you in creating a comprehensive risk management program.

$8 Million Dollar Verdict against NCYSA Highlights Need for Risk Management

Written by PC News on . Posted in Governing Bodies, Insurance, Litigation

A jury has found the North Carolina Youth Soccer Association negligent in the death of two young soccer players in a 2004 bus accident in France.  The jury awarded about $8.3 million in compensatory damages to be divided between the parents of two Olympic Development Program (“ODP”) players killed during a European tour.  In 2004, the North Carolina 1990 boys ODP team went on a tour of France.  During bad weather, the bus they were traveling in overturned in a ditch.  Two players died and several others were injured.  Suit was filed in North Carolina against the state association.  After many delays, the case went to trial and a verdict against the state association was returned, totaling $8.3 million.  (See full story here). The suit accused the N.C. Youth Soccer Association of failing to look into the safety record of the bus company used on the trip.  The lawyer for the families was quoted as saying “On this trip, all the emphasis was on soccer.  It wasn’t on safety.”

While the deaths are certainly tragic, such a verdict can leave association executives shaking their heads.  How can such liability be placed on the state association for an accident in a foreign country when transportation had been contracted out to properly certificated companies.  If this verdict can be rendered, how can a state association (or a local club with teams that travel) possibly protect itself?  Risk management planning is one approach to avoiding these situations.

One component of a risk management program is the evaluation of insurance coverages.  Using the South Texas YSA coverage as an example, the standard policy provides $1,000,000 in liability coverage with a $4,000,000 excess layer of coverage.  Obviously an $8 million verdict exceeds this coverage.  As day to day coverage goes, a $1M/$4M primary/excess liability policy is usually sufficient and prudent.  If a club or association undertakes a special event or program, however, the club should examine the possibility of obtaining an additional layer of excess insurance coverage.  Excess coverage is usually fairly inexpensive because it is only triggered if all the underlying policies are exhausted.  Moreover, excess insurers do not have the expense of defending lawsuits.  The primary carrier undertakes the defense.  For that reason, millions of dollars in excess coverage can be obtained at very reasonable rates.

A second consideration in a tour like this is the use of additional insured status and indemnity agreements to provide protection to the association.  A trip like this should not be booked or logistically planned by the association.  A professional travel planner should be engaged.  The engagement agreement should require the travel planner to undertake all due diligence for all vendors used on the trip.  Moreover, the travel planner should be required to indemnify the association for any claims of negligence in the planning of the trip and to name the association as an additional insured on its liability policies.  If the trip is domestic, all vendors should likewise indemnify the association and provide an additional insured status to make coverage available to the association.  At Placek Consulting, we use a standard vendor clause in our risk management plans to assure that the association is protected by the vendors it uses.

Despite best efforts, tragedies can happen.  In that instance, your risk management planning will be put to the test.  With sound planning, the chances of long term risk to the financial viability of the association can be minimized.  Hope for the best but plan for the worst is more than an old adage.  The verdict in North Carolina should remind us all of the very real risk that litigation poses to the ongoing survival of our organization.  If we can assist you in reviewing your coverages or risk management program, contact us at info ‘at’ placekconsulting.com or through the soccerrisk.com website.