Bleacher Death Leads to Lawsuit

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

A West Virginia baseball league is facing a lawsuit from the estate of a man who was injured, and later died, after falling from a set of bleachers while attending a game.  (Full story here).  The suit alleges that the victim was seated on the top row of the bleachers and his fall was occasioned by the absence of a safety rail on the bleachers.  The lawsuit alleges that the baseball league “failed to conduct a reasonable inspection of the bleachers, failed to provide a safe place for invitees to sit, failed to maintain the premises in a safe condition, failed to correct the hazardous condition and failed to warn invitees.”  The town that owns the complex was also sued, but has already filed a claim against the baseball league seeking to recover any damages it may be required to pay.

This situation should serve as a reminder to all leagues that our structures, fixtures and equipment pose potential safety risks.  Fixtures and buildings should regularly inspected, repaired as needed, and tagged and secured if they are unsafe.  The inspection and lockout procedures should be formalized and not performed in an occasional manner.  An association should not rely upon reports of unsafe conditions as the method of monitoring buildings, fixtures and equipment.  An officer should be tasked with specific responsibility and an action plan should exist in the event that unsafe conditions are discovered.

At Placek Consulting, our comprehensive risk management plans go beyond simple child protection policies and evaluate a wide range of risks effecting youth sports associations.

Is Your Association Required By Law to Report Suspected Abuse?

Written by PC News on . Posted in Board Members, Coaches, Molestation, Training, Volunteer Management

The Jerry Sandusky case and the response of the Penn State administration to reported suspicions of child molestation prompted much discussion about the moral and legal duties of a university to report suspected child abuse by one of its employees.  Because that case arose in the school context, there was little to no associated discussion of mandatory reporting requirements as they may apply to youth sports clubs.  Indeed, we are accustomed to thinking of professions like teachers, doctors and clergy as mandatory reporters of suspected child abuse.  We don’t think of volunteer sports coaches having the same obligations.  However, the designation as a mandatory reporter is of great significance because failure to report is associated with criminal liability.

In many states, youth sports associations are required to report suspected abuse.  Consider this designation in Lousiana of required reporters:

Organizational or youth activity providers, including administrators, employees, or volunteers of any day camp, summer camp, youth center, or youth recreation programs or any other organization that provides organized activities for children.

Under this definition, not only your officers and administrators, but also any volunteers of a youth sports association would be required to report suspected child abuse.  Are your coaches and administrators trained to do this?  The penalty for failure to report is up to three years imprisonment at “hard labor” if the abuse results in serious bodily injury.  What does this requirement mean to an organization that receives a complaint of questionable activity on the part of a coach?  Can you ignore it?  Should you even be the one to investigate it?

Now consider the Sandusky effect.  Many states are expanding the designations of what groups are considered mandatory reporters. Florida recently enacted the toughest mandatory reporting law in the nation.  Under the new Florida statute, any person who knows of or has a reasonable suspicion of child abuse is a mandatory reporter.  Failure to report is punishable by up to a year in jail.  Texas has a similar requirement that a “person having cause to believe that a child’s physical or mental health or welfare has been adversely affected by abuse or neglect by any person shall immediately make a report.”  Again, are your staff and volunteer corps aware of and prepared to fulfill their obligations?

If a coach or parent is ejected for punching a child, has the duty to report been triggered?  If you are a league commissioner and receive the game reports that show such an offense occurred, could you face  criminal charges for not making a required report?  If a parent comes to your board to complain about the verbal abuse and grabbing of a player by a coach, has a duty to report been triggered?  What if a coach just notices that a player comes to practice with unexplained bruises and injuries on a regular basis.  What constitutes abuse and what constitutes a sufficient report under the law? Does your association know the answer? Have you even considered the question?

At Placek Consulting, we offer educational and training programs to advise organizations on their reporting duties.  We also deliver online training to assure that volunteers are properly educated about when and how they are required to report.

Who Checks the Background Check?

Written by PC News on . Posted in Coaches, News, Volunteer Screening

How One Simple Omission Puts the Entire System at Risk

I am generally reticent to give specific risk management advice online.  Every club is different and there is no one size fits all solution.  People ask for forms, but forms don’t address your specifics.  A risk management consultant can start with a template, but it is their expertise that let’s them customize the program to fit the specific needs of your association.  Risk management requires an investment of capital and human resources.  A program for a 1000 player club may not be feasible for a 200 player club.  This is what your consultant understands, and it is the reason that I hesitate to give blanket advice online or in my presentations.

After my last three presentations, though, I am going to make one exception, and I will make it because I think it proves two points.  First, it proves that whatever benefits criminal background checks yield, and there are some, there is an equal or greater risk of complacency that comes with the knowledge that those checks are being performed.  The second point is just as significant.  It proves that there is a reason clubs should rely on risk management professionals, instead of trying a “do it yourself” approach to risk management.  We have had background checks in Texas for ten years.  The advice I am about to give it so simple, the usual response I get is open mouths or gasps because people realize they have borne this risk for years and years.  If this simple procedure hasn’t been implemented in ten years, is it really feasible to think that you can create a functional risk management program by web surfing and forming a committee?

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