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What happens if you fail to follow the requirements of your insurance policy and do not get a release signed? In New Hampshire, you have no coverage.

You either have to create an absolutely fool proof system or take your release
online. If they don’t sign they don’t climb!

Colony Insurance Company v. Dover Indoor Climbing Gym & a., 158 N.H. 628; 974 A.2d
399; 2009 N.H. LEXIS 51

State: New Hampshire, Supreme Court of New Hampshire

Plaintiff: Colony Insurance Company

Defendant: Dover Indoor Climbing Gym& a.

Plaintiff Claims: There was no insurance coverage because the insured did not get a release signed by the injured claimant

Defendant Defenses: The insurance policy endorsement requiring a release to be signed was ambiguous

Holding: For the Plaintiff Insurance Company

Year: 2009

This is a scary case, yet the outcome is correct. The plaintiff insurance company issued a policy to the defendant climbing gym. An endorsement (an added amendment to the contract) to the policy said there would only be coverage if the gym all customers sign a release.

 An endorsement to the policy stated: “All ‘participants’ shall be required to sign a waiver or release of liability in
your favor prior to engaging in any ‘climbing activity.’ “It further stated: “Failure to conform to this warranty will render this policy null and void as [sic] those claims brought against you.”

A climber came to the gym with a group of friends. The gym asked everyone if they had a release on file, and no one said no. (Yes really stupid procedures!) Bigelow was part of the group and did not have a release on file and had not signed a release. While climbing Bigelow fell and was injured.

Bigelow accompanied friends to the climbing gym, but did not sign a waiver. He testified that he was never asked to sign a waiver; the gym owner’s affidavit stated that the owner asked the group of climbers if they had waivers on file and received no negative answers. It is undisputed; however, that Bigelow did not sign a waiver or release. While climbing, Bigelow fell and sustained serious injuries.

The defendant climbing gym put the plaintiff insurance company on notice of the claim. When the insurance company found out no release was signed, the insurance company filed a declaratory judgment motion. A declaratory judgment is a way to go into a court and say there is no coverage under this policy because there was no release. It is an attempt to be a quick interpretation of the contract so the bigger issue can be resolved quickly.

The gym then put Colony on notice to defend and pay any verdict obtained by Bigelow. In response, Colony filed a petition for declaratory judgment, arguing that the gym’s failure to obtain a release from Bigelow absolved Colony of any duty to defend or indemnify the gym.

Both parties filed motions for summary judgment. The trial court granted the climbing gym’s motion for summary judgment saying the endorsement requiring the signed release was ambiguous. The ambiguity was created because the insurance company had not provided the gym with a sample waiver to use.

The trial court found that Colony’s failure to provide the gym with a sample waiver rendered the endorsement provision ambiguous. The trial court therefore denied Colony’s motion for summary judgment, and granted the defendants’ cross-motion for summary judgment. 

This analysis by the court was absurd. Releases need to be written for the gym, for the gym’s clients and for the state law of the state where it is to be used. A “sample” release is a guaranteed loser in most cases. However, I suspect the court was looking for anyway it could find to provide coverage for the gym.

The trial court’s ruling meant the plaintiff insurance company had to provide coverage to the defendant for any claims made by the injured climber Bigelow.

The insurance company appealed the decision. New Hampshire does not have an intermediary appellate court system so the appeal went to the New Hampshire Supreme Court.

Analysis: making sense of the law based on these facts.

Insurance policies are contracts and are interpreted as such. However, because have been written in a specific way and are always offered on a take it or leave it basis, as well as the fact the insurance company has all the cards (money) insurance policies have additional legal interpretations in addition to contract law.

The New Hampshire Supreme Court started its analysis by looking at how insurance policies are interpreted. That means the policy is read as a whole objectively. Terms are given their natural meaning, meaning there is no special interpretation of any term, and if the policy is clear and unambiguous is it enforced. No special reading of the policy is allowed based on any party to the policy’s expectations.

We construe the language of an insurance policy as would a reasonable person in the position of the insured based upon a more than casual reading of the policy as a whole. Policy terms are construed objectively, and where the terms of a policy are clear and unambiguous, we accord the language its natural and ordinary meaning. We need not examine the parties’ reasonable expectations of coverage when a policy is clear and unambiguous; absent ambiguity, our search for the parties’ intent is limited to the words of the policy.

The burden of proving that no insurance coverage exists as defined by the policy rests on the insurance company. That means coverage exists under the policy unless the insurance company can prove no coverage was written.

If an insurance company wants to limit its coverage, it is allowed to do so. However, that limitation must be clear and unambiguous. An ambiguity exists if a reasonable disagreement exists between the insurance company and the policyholder and that disagreement could lead to two or more, interpretations.

Although an insurer has a right to contractually limit the extent of its liability, it must do so “through clear and unambiguous policy language. Ambiguity exists if “reasonable disagreement between contracting parties” leads to at least two interpretations of the language. 

Ambiguities will be examined in the appropriate context and the words construed in their plain, ordinary and popular meaning. If the interpretation of the ambiguity favors the policyholder, then the coverage will favor the insured.

In determining whether an ambiguity exists, we will look to the claimed ambiguity, consider it in its appropriate context, and construe the words used according to their plain, ordinary, and popular definitions. If one of the reasonable meanings of the language favors the policyholder, the ambiguity will be construed against the insurer. 

If, however, the language in the policy is clear, the court will not bend over backward or as written in this case “perform amazing feats of linguistic gymnastics” to find an ambiguity and create coverage.

Where, however, the policy language is clear, this court “will not perform amazing feats of linguistic gymnastics to find a purported ambiguity” simply to construe the policy against the insurer and create coverage where it is clear that none was intended. 

The court then looked at the determination of the trial court which found an ambiguity because the insurance company did not provide a sample insurance policy. The Supreme Court found that was an incorrect interpretation of the policy. Even the defendant climbing gym agreed with the court on this
issue.

Even the gym, however, contends that the trial court “reached the correct result for the wrong reasons.” Thus, the gym does not argue that the endorsement creates an ambiguity by its failure to provide the insured with a sample waiver form, but, rather, that the exclusionary language is ambiguous because it states that participants shall “be required” to sign waivers as opposed to mandating that the gym obtain signed waivers.  

The court then applied to the law of New Hampshire in interpreting insurance policies to the facts of this case. The court found the language requiring a release was clear and that a reasonable person could only read it.

The clear meaning of the policy language is that the gym is required to actually obtain waivers from climbing participants. The gym’s interpretation would lead to the absurd result of requiring coverage even if the gym never actually enforced its waiver policy. A reasonable person reading the policy would not understand that coverage existed in such circumstances. The gym’s interpretation is unreasonably narrow, and is therefore not the type of alternative interpretation that renders policy language ambiguous.

Simply put the policy requires the defendant climbing gym to have everyone sign a release. If no release is signed, there was no coverage for the gym. The trial court was overturned, and the climbing gym faced the claims of the injured climber without insurance coverage.

So Now What?

One of the first cases I was involved with was very similar. A Montana stable was insured by an insurance company with an endorsement just as this one; all riders were required to sign a release. In Montana all guides, including horseback guides had to be licensed by the state. A state employee was checking out the
stable and found the releases. In Montana, you cannot use a release. (See States that do not Support the Use of a Release andMontana Statute Prohibits Use of a Release)

The state employee had the stable quit using the release, or they would lose their license to operate in Montana. A rider was injured and sued the stable, and the insurance company denied coverage. I was contacted by the law firm representing the insurance company and was floored by the facts and how the insurance company could deny coverage when it violated state regulations.

However, in that situation as well as this one, there is not much you can do to get around the situation if the policy clearly states you must have a release signed. In the Montana case, the stable owner should have immediately contacted his insurance company when he was told he could not use a release and pay to have the endorsement removed or found another insurance company to write him a policy.

In this case, a proper procedure should have been put in place to confirm signed releases rather than relying on the honesty of someone walking through the doors to the gym.

When you purchase insurance make sure you and your insurance agent are speaking clearly to each other, and you both understand what you are looking for. When the policy arrives, read the policy or pay a professional to read the policy for you looking for the coverage’s you need as well as looking for problems with the coverage.

If you ask the agent or broker to clarify the coverage you are wanting, to make sure you get that clarification in writing (or an email), so you can take that to court if necessary.

Most importantly create a system to make sure that everyone who comes to your facility, activity or business when you use a release, signs a release.

If you are interested in having me write your release, fill out this Information Form and Contract and send it to me.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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Author: Outdoor Recreation Insurance, Risk Management and Law

Copyright 2017 Recreation Law (720) Edit Law

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By Recreation Law           Rec-law@recreation-law.com     James H. Moss

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Colony Insurance Company v. Dover Indoor Climbing Gym, 158 N.H. 628; 974 A.2d 399; 2009 N.H. LEXIS 51

Colony Insurance Company v. Dover Indoor Climbing Gym & a., 158 N.H. 628; 974 A.2d 399; 2009 N.H. LEXIS 51

Colony Insurance Company v. Dover Indoor Climbing Gym & a.

No. 2008-759

SUPREME COURT OF NEW HAMPSHIRE

158 N.H. 628; 974 A.2d 399; 2009 N.H. LEXIS 51

March 18, 2009, Argued

April 24, 2009, Opinion Issued

HEADNOTES NEW HAMPSHIRE OFFICIAL REPORTS HEADNOTES

1. Insurance–Policies–Construction The interpretation of insurance policy language is a question of law for the court to decide. The court construes the language of an insurance policy as would a reasonable person in the position of the insured based upon a more than casual reading of the policy as a whole. Policy terms are construed objectively, and where the terms of a policy are clear and unambiguous, the court accords the language its natural and ordinary meaning. The court need not examine the parties’ reasonable expectations of coverage when a policy is clear and unambiguous; absent ambiguity, the court’s search for the parties’ intent is limited to the words of the policy.

2. Insurance–Proceedings–Burden of Proof The burden of proving that no insurance coverage exists rests squarely with the insurer.

3. Insurance–Policies–Ambiguities Although an insurer has a right to contractually limit the extent of its liability, it must do so through clear and unambiguous policy language. Ambiguity exists if reasonable disagreement between contracting parties leads to at least two interpretations of the language. In determining whether an ambiguity exists, the court will look to the claimed ambiguity, consider it in its appropriate context, and construe the words used according to their plain, ordinary, and popular definitions. If one of the reasonable meanings of the language favors the policyholder, the ambiguity will be construed against the insurer. Where, however, the policy language is clear, the court will not perform amazing feats of linguistic gymnastics to find a purported ambiguity simply to construe the policy against the insurer and create coverage where it is clear that none was intended.

4. Insurance–Policies–Construction When a climbing gym’s insurance policy stated, “All participants shall be required to sign a waiver or release of liability in your favor prior to engaging in any climbing activity,” the clear meaning of the policy language was that the gym was required to actually obtain waivers from climbing participants. The gym’s interpretation that a reasonable person would believe that coverage existed so long as the gym had a policy of requiring waivers regardless of whether it actually obtained waivers would lead to the absurd result of requiring coverage even if the gym never actually enforced its waiver policy. A reasonable person reading the policy would not understand that coverage existed in such circumstances. Because the policy required the gym to obtain waivers from all participants, the failure to do so in the case of an injured climber rendered coverage under the policy inapplicable to his claims.

COUNSEL: Wiggin & Nourie, P.A., of Manchester (Doreen F. Connor on the brief and orally), for the plaintiff.

Mallory & Friedman, PLLC, of Concord (Mark L. Mallory on the brief and orally), for defendant, Dover Indoor Climbing Gym.

Shaheen & Gordon, P.A., of Dover, for defendant, Richard Bigelow, filed no brief.

JUDGES: DUGGAN, J. BRODERICK, C.J., and DALIANIS, J., concurred.

OPINION BY: DUGGAN

OPINION

[**400]   [*629]  Duggan, J. The plaintiff, Colony Insurance Company (Colony), appeals an order of the Superior Court (McHugh, J.) denying its motion for summary judgment and granting that of the defendants, Dover Indoor Climbing Gym (the gym) and Richard Bigelow. We reverse and remand.

The trial court found, or the record supports, the following facts. Colony issued a commercial general liability insurance policy to the gym, which was in effect from January 5, 2007, to January 5, 2008. An endorsement to the policy stated: “All ‘participants’ shall be required to sign a waiver or release of liability in your favor prior to engaging in any ‘climbing activity.’ ” It further stated: “Failure to conform to this warranty will render this policy null and void as [sic] those claims brought against you.”

On August 14, 2007,  [***2] Bigelow accompanied friends to the climbing gym, but did not sign a waiver. He testified that he was never asked to sign a waiver; the gym owner’s affidavit stated that the owner asked the group of climbers if they had waivers on file and received no negative answers. It is undisputed, however, that Bigelow did not sign a waiver or release. While climbing, Bigelow fell and sustained serious injuries. The gym then put Colony on notice to defend and pay any verdict obtained by Bigelow. In response, Colony filed a petition for declaratory judgment, arguing that the gym’s failure to obtain a release from Bigelow absolved Colony of any duty to defend or indemnify the gym.

Both Colony and the defendants filed motions for summary judgment, which the trial court addressed in a written order. The trial court found that Colony’s failure to provide the gym with a sample waiver rendered the endorsement provision ambiguous. The trial court therefore denied Colony’s motion for summary judgment, and granted the defendants’ cross-motion  [**401]  for summary judgment. This appeal followed.

[*630]  On appeal, Colony argues that the trial court erred in finding that the endorsement was ambiguous, and contends that the  [***3] gym’s failure to obtain a waiver from Bigelow renders the policy inapplicable as to his claims. Alternatively, Colony argues that even if the endorsement is ambiguous, the gym is not entitled to coverage because it had actual knowledge of the policy’s waiver requirement.

[HN1] In reviewing the trial court’s grant or denial of summary judgment, we consider the evidence, and all inferences properly drawn from it, in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Everitt v. Gen. Elec. Co., 156 N.H. 202, 208, 932 A.2d 831 (2007); Sintros v. Hamon, 148 N.H. 478, 480, 810 A.2d 553 (2002). If there is no genuine issue of material fact, and if the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law, the grant of summary judgment is proper. Everitt, 156 N.H. at 209; Sintros, 148 N.H. at 480. We review the trial court’s application of the law to the facts de novo. Everitt, 156 N.H. at 209; Sintros, 148 N.H. at 480.

[1]  [HN2] The interpretation of insurance policy language is a question of law for this court to decide. Godbout v. Lloyd’s Ins. Syndicates, 150 N.H. 103, 105, 834 A.2d 360 (2003). We construe the language of an insurance policy as would a reasonable person in the position of the insured based upon a more than casual reading  [***4] of the policy as a whole. Id. Policy terms are construed objectively, and where the terms of a policy are clear and unambiguous, we accord the language its natural and ordinary meaning. Id. We need not examine the parties’ reasonable expectations of coverage when a policy is clear and unambiguous; absent ambiguity, our search for the parties’ intent is limited to the words of the policy. Id.

[2, 3] In this case, the gym argues that the policy is ambiguous and Colony maintains that it is not.  [HN3] The burden of proving that no insurance coverage exists rests squarely with the insurer. Curtis v. Guaranty Trust Life Ins. Co., 132 N.H. 337, 340, 566 A.2d 176 (1989); see RSA 491:22-a (1997).  [HN4] Although an insurer has a right to contractually limit the extent of its liability, it must do so “through clear and unambiguous policy language.” Id. (quotation omitted). Ambiguity exists if “reasonable disagreement between contracting parties” leads to at least two interpretations of the language. Int’l Surplus Lines Ins. Co. v. Mfgs. & Merchants Mut. Ins. Co., 140 N.H. 15, 20, 661 A.2d 1192 (1995); Trombly v. Blue Cross/Blue Shield, 120 N.H. 764, 771, 423 A.2d 980 (1980). In determining whether an ambiguity exists, we will look to the claimed ambiguity,  [***5] consider it in its appropriate context, and construe the words used according to their plain, ordinary, and popular definitions. Int’l Surplus, 140 N.H. at 20. If one of the reasonable meanings of the language favors the policyholder, the ambiguity will be construed against the insurer. Id. Where, however, the policy language is clear, this court “will not  [*631]  perform amazing feats of linguistic gymnastics to find a purported ambiguity” simply to construe the policy against the insurer and create coverage where it is clear that none was intended. Hudson v. Farm Family Mut. Ins. Co., 142 N.H. 144, 147, 697 A.2d 501 (1997); Curtis, 132 N.H. at 342.

The trial court found that the endorsement requiring waivers is ambiguous because Colony did not provide the gym with a sample waiver. Even the gym, however, contends that the trial court “reached the  [**402]  correct result for the wrong reasons.” Thus, the gym does not argue that the endorsement creates an ambiguity by its failure to provide the insured with a sample waiver form, but, rather, that the exclusionary language is ambiguous because it states that participants shall “be required” to sign waivers as opposed to mandating that the gym obtain signed waivers.  [***6] Under this interpretation, the gym argues, a reasonable person would believe that coverage exists so long as the gym has a policy of requiring waivers regardless of whether it actually obtained waivers from climbing participants. Colony argues that the policy language is unambiguous. We agree with Colony.

[4] The clear meaning of the policy language is that the gym is required to actually obtain waivers from climbing participants. The gym’s interpretation would lead to the absurd result of requiring coverage even if the gym never actually enforced its waiver policy. A reasonable person reading the policy would not understand that coverage existed in such circumstances. The gym’s interpretation is unreasonably narrow, and is therefore not the type of alternative interpretation that renders policy language ambiguous. See Curtis, 132 N.H. at 342 ( [HN5] refusing to find ambiguity when alternate interpretations would “inevitably lead to absurd results”). To construe the exclusion against the insurer here would create coverage where it is clear that none was intended. We therefore conclude that the policy language is unambiguous and that a reasonable insured would understand that the exclusion would  [***7] apply in this case.

Because the policy requires the gym to obtain waivers from all participants, the failure to do so in the case of Bigelow renders coverage under the policy inapplicable to his claims. In light of our holding, we need not address Colony’s remaining argument. We therefore reverse the order of the trial court granting the defendants’ motion for summary judgment, and hold that Colony is entitled to summary judgment as a matter of law.

Reversed and remanded.

Broderick, C.J., and Dalianis, J., concurred.

 


You run a guide service. Should you refer travel insurance to your clients?

Yes, however, you need to understand, and probably communicate to your clients that travel insurance is extremely limited for outdoor recreation activities.

Travel insurance was created for European vacations. You booked a 12-day trip to Europe. If you got sick, or the bus, you were traveling on died, and you came home on day eight, then your travel insurance sent you a check for 1/3 of what you spent except your trip. It was simple math and very simple underwriting defined by the travel insurance policies. Europe was like the US, and the risks were known.

The UK added to travel insurance because its health care system did not extend beyond its boundaries. So UK travelers leaving the UK have always bought travel health insurance. Again, this is simple underwriting:  travelers are normally in good health and so the only real risk was an accident while traveling.

Everest Base camp does not really fit into the underwriting of either of those types of polices, yet the policies have not changed since they were first written.

Understanding Policies

First, there are two types of travel insurance that are very different and both called travel insurance. One covers medical and sometimes evacuation home or at least to a local hospital when you are outside of your home country. The second reimburses you for costs if your trip is canceled (before departure) or interrupted (after the trip starts).

Most travel medical policies are fairly easy to understand and read. They have a specific limit on how much they will pay, and a specific time frame where your injury and medical services must occur. As I stated earlier, I’ve found the best ones are those sold for UK travelers. I’ve even purchased some policies that paid for rescue up to 20,000 feet.

Travel Medical insurance policies are great to have because of the limits that HMO’s and PPO’s my place on services outside of the US. When in doubt spend the money and buy a policy if you are traveling outside of the US>

Travel Insurance Policies

Travel insurance policies are also easy to understand if you take the time to read the policy. Most policies are online and easy to find. If you are traveling for an outdoor recreation trip, you must read the policies.

And by policies, I mean the actual policy, not the lengthy description listed on the website. Most travel insurance companies have their policy online if you dig enough. If not call or email the company, tell them you are getting ready to travel in a few months and want to see a copy of their policy. Tell them you have read the coverage review on the website, but you want more information. TravelEx, a leading company calls their policy “Description of Coverage.”

As an example, the policies sold by online sites that you are booking your air or hotel through are very specific and will only cover your air or hotel – nothing more. A sleeping bag or tents are not either of those.

Travel insurance policies are very different from other insurance policies you may purchase in the US. The policies are written so absolutely only what is listed is covered with no exceptions. They are written to say for $XX you get $XX paid back if something listed in the policy occurs. If it is not listed it is not covered.

Many policies will have a grace period or cancellation period. You can purchase the policy and then have 10-15 days to cancel the policy if it is not what you want.

Travel Insurance policies may have a small medical benefit. However, this is not insurance. Meaning after you have paid the medical bill you can file a claim and ask to be reimbursed for the amount of the bill up to the limits of the policy. The medical benefit is usually around $10,000 so if you have a large medical bill you are going to eat the rest and will only be paid the $10K once you show the insurance company paid receipts.

Any claim will only be paid by including your receipts with the claim. So keep every receipt. If you are having a hard time tracking your receipts use your phone or camera to photograph the receipts. Several good apps are also available to track receipts. Again if you don’t have receipts, you won’t receive any money from the insurance company.

Claims

Claims are paid if the cause of your claim fits squarely in the list of coverage. As an example, this is the list of coverage’s from a common travel insurance policy.

Trip Cancellation and Interruption Covered Reasons Coverage is provided for the following unforeseeable events or their consequences, which occur while coverage is, in effect, under this Policy if there is a change in plans by you, a Family Member traveling with you, or Traveling Companion:

1. Sickness, Injury or death of you or your Traveling Companion and/or you or your Traveling Companion’s Family Member or Business Partner. The Sickness must commence while coverage is in effect, require the examination of a Physician, in person, at the time of Trip Cancellation or Trip Interruption and, in the written opinion of the treating Physician, be so disabling as to prevent you from taking or continuing your Covered Trip.

2. Common Carrier delays resulting from inclement weather, or mechanical breakdown or organized labor strikes that affect public transportation;

3. arrangements canceled by an airline, cruise line, motor coach company, or tour operator, resulting from inclement weather, mechanical breakdown or organized labor strikes that affect public transportation.

4. arrangements canceled by a tour operator, cruise line, airline, rental car company, hotel, condominium, railroad, motor coach company, or other supplier of travel services, resulting from Financial Insolvency;

5. being directly involved in a documented traffic accident while en route to departure;

6. being hijacked, quarantined, required to serve on a jury, or required by a court order to appear as a witness in a legal action, provided you, Family Member traveling with you or a Traveling Companion is not 1) a party to the legal action, or 2) appearing as a law enforcement officer;

7. your Home made uninhabitable by fire, flood, volcano, earthquake, hurricane or other natural disaster;

8. your destination made uninhabitable by fire, flood, volcano, earthquake, hurricane or other natural disaster;

9. mandatory evacuation ordered by local authorities at your destination due to hurricane or other natural disaster;

10. being called into active military service to provide aid or relief in the event of a natural disaster;

11. a documented theft of passports or visas;

12. a Terrorist Act which occurs in your departure city or in a city which is a scheduled destination for your Covered Trip provided the Terrorist Act occurs within 30 days of the Scheduled Departure Date for your Covered Trip or during your Covered Trip;

13. a cancellation of your Covered Trip if your arrival on the Covered Trip is delayed and causes you to lose 50% or more of the scheduled Covered Trip duration due to the reasons covered under the Covered Trip Delay Benefit;

14. a transfer of employment of 250 miles or more;

15. your involuntary termination of employment or layoff and was not under your control. You must have been continuously employed with the same employer for 1 year prior to the termination or layoff. This provision is not applicable to temporary employment, independent contractors or self-employed persons;

16. your host at destination is hospitalized or dies, provided you made previous arrangements to stay at the host’s personal residence during the Covered Trip.

If you claim does not fit within one of the 16 listed above claims you do not have a chance. The next issue then is to look at your claim and see if it fits the claim you have identified perfectly. The language of the coverage list is defined in the policy in preceding paragraphs.

For Example, let’s look at the Everest season ending this year.

You might first think that if you bought a policy and could not climb Mount Everest this year because of the deaths and closing of the ice fall you would have a claim under paragraph 2, “organized labor strikes.” However, I don’t think that would qualify because Sherpa’s are not common carriers nor are they public transportation. Common carriers are airlines, bus lines, etc., and I doubt much in Nepal except the airline would qualify. Public transportation is like your local city bus service…..which has not made to the south side base camp yet.

Paragraph 3 would not work for about the same reasons.

Paragraph 8 may qualify. “your destination made uninhabitable by fire, flood, volcano, earthquake, hurricane or other natural disaster” However, the top of Mt. Everest, your destination was fine; the route to your destination was destroyed.

Paragraph 9 would work if the Nepalese government had closed base camp or Everest from the south side, however, all news reports stated just the opposite, the Nepalese government worked hard to keep the Sherpa’s on the mountain and working.

As you can see, the language of the policy fits European vacations, the issues and claims the policies were originally written for.

Another policy My Travel Guard had this list of claims:

The Company will reimburse the Insured a benefit, up to the Maximum Limit shown in the Schedule or Declarations Page if an Insured cancels his/her Trip or is unable to continue on his/her Trip due to any of the following Unforeseen events:

(a) Sickness, Injury or death of an Insured, Family Member, Traveling Companion or Business Partner;

(1) Sickness or Injury of an Insured, Traveling Companion or Family Member traveling with the Insured must be so disabling as to reasonably cause a Trip to be canceled or interrupted or which results in medically imposed restrictions as certified by a Physician at the time of Loss preventing continued participation in the Trip;

(2) Sickness or Injury of a Family Member not traveling with the Insured Such disability must be so disabling as to reasonably cause a Trip to be canceled or interrupted and must be certified by a Physician;

(3) Sickness or Injury of the Business Partner must be so disabling as to reasonably cause the Insured to cancel or interrupt the Trip to assume daily management of the business. Such disability must be certified by a Physician;

(b) Inclement Weather causing delay or cancellation of travel;

(c) Strike causing complete cessation of travel services at the point of departure or Destination;

(d) the Insured’s Primary Residence or Destination being made Uninhabitable or Inaccessible by Natural Disaster, vandalism or burglary;

(e) the Insured or Traveling Companion is hijacked, quarantined, subpoenaed or required to serve on a jury;

(f) the Insured or Traveling Companion is called to active military service or military leave is revoked or reassigned.

The following only apply if the Additional Unforeseen Events Upgrade is purchased:

(a) Sickness, Injury, death or hospitalization of the Insured’s Host at Destination. A Physician must certify the Sickness or Injury;

(b) Financial Default of an airline, Cruise line or tour operator provided the Financial Default occurs more than 14 days following an Insured’s effective date for the Trip Cancellation or Trip Interruption Benefits. There is no coverage for the Financial Default of any person, organization, agency, or firm from whom the Insured purchased travel arrangements supplied by others;

(c) a Terrorist Incident in a City listed on the Insured’s itinerary within 30 days of the Insured’s scheduled arrival;

(d) the Insured or Traveling Companion is involuntarily terminated or laid off through no fault of his or her own provided that he or she has been an active employee for the same employer for at least 1 year. Termination must occur following the effective date of coverage. This provision is not applicable to temporary employment, seasonal employment, independent contractors or self-employed persons;

(e) the Insured and/or Traveling Companion is directly involved in or delayed due to an traffic accident, substantiated by a police report, while en route to the Insured’s Destination;

(f) the Insured or a Traveling Companion being the victim of a Felonious Assault within 10 days prior to the Departure Date. No coverage is provided for Felonious Assault committed by another Insured, Family Member, Traveling Companion or Traveling Companion’s Family Member;

(g) mechanical/equipment failure of a Common Carrier that occurs on a scheduled Trip and causes complete cessation of the Insured’s travel and results in a Loss of 50% of the Insured’s Trip length;

(h) the Insured or Traveling Companion is required to work during his/her scheduled Trip. He/she must provide proof of requirement to work, such as a notarized statement signed by an officer of his/her employer. In the situation of self-employment, proof of self-employment and a notarized statement confirming that the Insured is unable to travel due to his or her job obligations will be required;

(i) the Insured or Traveling Companion is directly involved in a merger, acquisition, government required product recall or bankruptcy proceedings and must be currently employed by the company that is involved in said event;

(j) the Insured’s or Traveling Companion’s company is deemed to be unsuitable for business due to burglary or Natural Disaster and the Insured or Traveling Companion is directly involved as a Key Employee of the disaster recovery team.

Here paragraph c might qualify, if you can call the actions of the Sherpa’s a strike. “Strike causing complete cessation of travel services at the point of departure or Destination” However, once you read the definition of a strike as defined in the policy, it will not qualify.

“Strike” means a stoppage of work which:

(a) is announced, organized, and sanctioned by a labor union; and

(b) interferes with the normal departure and arrival of a Common Carrier.

Again, Sherpa’s are not common carriers and not recognized by any labor union.

After reading all the covered claims, I don’t think any would apply to the Everest disaster this year.

So

If you are looking for insurance coverage for an outdoor recreation trip start with what you already have and then try to fill in the gaps with what you can buy.

Your homeowner’s/condo/renter’s insurance may provide coverage for your gear while traveling. That coverage is usually only for it being total loss, not just delayed. You may have additional protection so check this policy first.

The credit cards you paid for your trip with, may provide coverage that a lot of travel policies cover.

Go over your health insurance policy with a fine-tooth comb. Make sure you understand what coverage you have and do not have. Again, buy a policy to fill in the gaps. Compare the coverage on the travel insurance policies to the coverage provided by a travel medical insurance policy. Most travel medical insurance policies have a broader coverage.

Keep track of all of your receipts. Without receipts, you don’t have a claim. Keep a diary tracking date and times because you may have to prove what happened when. You might be able to job your memory with your photographs also.

The risk of outdoor recreation trips is greater than just the chance of getting hurt or injured on the water, under the ground or on the mountain. You may never get the chance to try.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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Copyright 2014 Recreation Law (720) 334-8529

 

Call or Email me if you need legal services around these issues.

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Have you read your health and life policy to see if your activities are excluded. This travel insurance policy excluded mountaineering and skiing

First this case defines mountaineering, legally! The court carefully picked its way through the language of the policy to keep the injured plaintiff in the lawsuit a little longer. That probably means the insurance company settled the case rather than spend more money fighting, but that is only speculation.

Redmond v. Sirius International Insurance Corporation, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 5089

Date of the Decision: January 15, 2014

Plaintiff: Ryan M. Redmond

Defendant: Sirius International Insurance Corporation

Plaintiff Claims: breach of contract and insurance bad faith

Defendant Defenses: the contract

Holding: Cross motions for summary judgment denied, case headed for trial

The plaintiff in this case when ski mountaineering in Grand Teton National Park. Half way up Ellingwood Couloir, the plaintiff and a friend stopped climbing and started to ski down. Two other friends proceeded up the couloir. The plaintiff fell, tumbling down the mountain. He was eventually airlifted from the park.

The plaintiff had purchased a travel policy. The insurance company that issued the travel policy, relying upon the exclusions in the policy, denied coverage for the plaintiff’s injuries. The plaintiff and the defendant insurance company filed motions for summary judgment covering multiple issues, including a dismissal of the case due to the policy exclusions.

Summary of the case

The policy exclusions stated:

All charges, costs, expenses and/or claims (collectively “Charges”) incurred by the Insured Person and directly or indirectly relating to or arising from or in connection with any of the following acts …:

* * *

(11) Charges incurred for any surgery, Treatment or supplies relating to, arising from or in connection with, for, or as a result of:

* * *

(d) any Injury or Illness sustained while taking part in mountaineering activities where specialized climbing equipment, ropes or guides are normally or reasonably should have been used, Amateur Athletics, Professional Athletics, aviation (except when traveling solely as a passenger in a commercial aircraft), hang gliding and parachuting, snow skiing except for recreational downhill and/or cross country snow skiing (no cover provided whilst skiing in violation of applicable laws, rules or regulations; away from prepared and marked in-bound territories; and/or against the advice of the local ski school or local authoritative body), racing of any kind including by horse, motor vehicle (of any type) or motorcycle, spelunking, and subaqua pursuits involving underwater breathing apparatus (except as otherwise expressly set forth in Section Q. Recreational Underwater Activities). Practice or training in preparation for any excluded activity which results in injury will be considered as activity while taking part in such activity; and/or

(e) any Illness or Injury sustained while participating in any sporting, recreational or ad-venture activity where such activity is undertaken against the advice or direction of any local authority or any qualified instructor or contrary to the rules, recommendations and procedures of a recognized governing body for the sport or activity….

Basically the policy attempted to exclude recreational activities except skiing at a ski area.

The court first looked at the requirements for either party to win a motion for summary judgment. Similar in most courts in most cases.

“The court shall grant summary judgment if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” A material fact is one that might affect the outcome of the case, and a nonmoving party’s dispute is “genuine” only if a reasonable finder of fact could find in the nonmoving party’s favor at trial. The court views the facts in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, and likewise it draws all inferences in the non-movant’s favor. The court may not weigh the evidence or make credibility determinations. Thus, the nonmoving party will defeat a motion for summary judgment if it is able to produce admissible evidence that, when viewed in the most favorable light, would be sufficient to enable the finder of fact to return a verdict in its favor.

The court then looked at the requirements on interpreting an insurance policy. Insurance policies are contracts and must meet all contract requirements. Insurance policies in many states also have to meet specific requirements and have different ways of interpreting some specific insurance issues. In Wisconsin policies are interpreted as a contract first.

“An insurance policy is a contract, and as such is subject to the same rules of construction as other contracts.” Because contract interpretation is primarily a question of law, it is a matter that is generally well-suited for summary judgment. “When interpreting an insurance contract courts must look at the contract as a whole.” In construing an insurance contract, the court should do “so as not to render any words, phrases, or terms ineffective or meaningless.” Terms should be given their plain and ordinary meaning. In determining the “plain and ordinary meaning” of a term, courts will frequently turn to dictionaries.

However, if a provision of an insurance contract is ambiguous, it is to be construed strictly against the insurer. An insurance contract is not ambiguous simply because parties each have their own interpretation of a provision. Rather, “[a]n insurance contract is ambiguous when it is susceptible to more than one interpretation and reasonably intelligent persons would honestly differ as to its meaning.”

Construction against the author of a contract is a common occurrence in the law. The party that drafts the contract is the party that loses if the court is faced with a situation where the exact intention of the language is not clear. Instead of tossing a coin, the writer of the contract loses.

The court looked at the exclusion language above to determine if the activity of climbing up a couloir and skiing down is mountain climbing.

First the court determined that mountaineering did not encompass the action of skiing down the mountain. When in doubt in defining words courts use dictionaries.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines “mountaineering” as, “The action or sport of climbing mountains.” Oxford English Dictionary, (January 15, 2014), http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/239554.

Merriam-Webster similarly defines it as “the sport or technique of scaling mountains.” Merriam-Webster, (January 15, 2014), http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/mountaineering.

The definition within the American Heritage Dictionary states, “The climbing of mountains, especially using special equipment and techniques on rock, ice, or snow.

Also called mountain climbing.” American Heritage Dictionary, (January 15, 2014), http://www.ahdictionary.com/word/search.html?q=mountaineering.

The definitions all defined mountaineering as climbing and climbing means going up. However, the court also found that:

Thus, if “mountaineering” is defined by reference to “climbing” and climbing can denote either ascent or descent, then necessarily, “mountaineering” must include both ascent and descent. The court finds this understanding of mountaineering to be the only logical definition. After all, in the context of mountaineering, the proverb “What goes up, must come down,” is generally literally true.

The next issue then if skiing down was not mountaineering and excluded, was the issue, whether the activity which injured the plaintiff violated the ski terms of the policy. The court then had to consider if skiing in a couloir in a national park is skiing out of bounds. The defendant argued that ski mountaineering was encompassed by the term mountaineering. However, the court did not agree. “The court also rejects the defendant’s contention that the mountaineering exclusion encompasses “ski mountaineering,” which the defendant characterizes as a subset of mountaineering.”

The plaintiff argued that ski mountaineering required the use of ropes and other specialized equipment. The court found that the term mountaineering did not encompass ski mountaineering.

Thank heavens for us; the court did not accept either of these definitions.

The next issue was whether or not the acts of the plaintiff fell within the exclusions in the policy concerning skiing. The court reviewed the policy and the skiing exclusion and defined the exclusion this way.

This provision, moving back and forth between coverage and exclusions, is far from a model of clarity. It first excludes coverage for injuries sustained while snow skiing but then immediately excludes from the exclusion (and thus covers) injuries sustained while “recreational downhill and/or cross country snow skiing,” and then adds a parenthetical to now exclude from the exclusion to the exclusion (and thus deny coverage for) injuries sustained while “skiing in violation of applicable laws, rules or regulations; away from prepared and marked in-bound territories; and/or against the advice of the local ski school or local authoritative body.” The net effect of this provision is that injuries sustained as a result of recreational snow skiing are covered provided the skiing was not unlawful, against the advice of certain entities, or “away from prepared and marked in-bound territories.”

(You always wondered what someone learns in law school. You learn to read policy exclusions and then interpret them as explained above. The court found the language in the policy: “This provision, moving back and forth between coverage and exclusions, is far from a model of clarity.”)

The plaintiff argued that he was skiing in an area allowed by the insurance policy because anywhere within Grand Teton National Park was allowed to be skied, and he did not leave the park boundary. Inbounds meaning in the National Park. The court then looked at other aspects of the policy to determine what was meant.

“Recreational” is not ambiguous. It is readily understood as, “An activity or pastime which is pursued for the pleasure or interest it provides.” Oxford English Dictionary, (January 15, 2014), http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/159954.

There is no evidence that Redmond was skiing for any purpose other than the pure pleasure or interest the sport provides, and thus the court concludes that Redmond’s skiing on the day of his injury was recreational.

Thus, competitive or commercial skiing likely would not be covered under the policy.

The net effect of the review was the court could not determine if the actions of the plaintiff were excluded by the policy. The definitions the court used and defined in making this determination do have value.

…Redmond [plaintiff] was skiing away from prepared and marked in-bound territories, this plainly encompasses more than simply skiing in an area where skiing is not barred. Thus, having concluded that “away from” means roughly “outside of,” restating this exclusion as a positive question, the issue before the court becomes, “Was Redmond skiing in a prepared and marked in-bound territory when he was injured?” Only if he was would the policy possibly afford coverage for his injures.

The court then looking at the overview of skiing could not determine what the terms in the skiing exclusion meant.

The court presumes that if a ski area is bordered on the sides by signs and ropes demarcating the boundaries of the permissible skiing area, it is likely “marked” within the scope of the policy. But is this the only kind of identification that will render an area “marked?” What if the area is depicted on a map that includes boundary lines indicating the recommended areas for skiing? If markings on a map are sufficient, who must prepare such a map to render the area marked? Must the map be prepared by the entity in charge of the area, e.g. the National Park Service, or would a map prepared by a person with special knowledge of the area suffice? Or must the markings even relate to the in-bound territories? Would a sign in the vicinity of the mountain stating “Ski at your own risk,” suffice as a marking? Perhaps there are many other plausible understandings of this term.

The court finally determined that the terms “prepared” and “marked” were not defined adequately in the policy. Therefore, the policy was ambiguous. The court could not grant the defendant’s motion for summary judgment. That issue was left for a jury to decide.

The case went on for multiple pages discussing all the motions filed by each side. This issue was the only one of importance.

So Now What?

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) created this exclusion in health insurance policies. The exclusion is legal, but up to an insurance company to enact and place its policies. Several attempts have been made since HIPAA was enacted to correct this issue; however, all have died in committee.

Simply put the court worked hard to determine a way the plaintiff would have insurance.  The simple term “ski area,” added to the definition of skiing would have made the purpose of the lawsuit irrelevant. Obviously, the ski area description was solely for skiing inbounds not in a park.

If you enjoy recreating in the outdoors, make sure that you have the insurance coverage you believe you are paying for. Read your policy or find someone who can read it for you. An insurance policy is more than something to read when you can’t get to sleep at night.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

If you like this let your friends know or post it on FaceBook, Twitter or LinkedIn

Copyright 2014 Recreation Law (720) Edit Law

Email: Rec-law@recreation-law.com

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By Recreation Law       Rec-law@recreation-law.com              James H. Moss               #Authorrank

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Indemnification agreements? What are you signing?

Suddenly, indemnification agreements are flying around the outdoor industry. Make sure you know what you are signing.

Indemnification agreements, either as part of another document or individually are being tossed around the outdoor industry. So far, they have all been written by non-attorneys. By that I mean they are written badly or by someone who does not understand what they are and how they work. Before you sign an indemnification agreement, you need to understand what you are signing and the ramifications of signing it.

An indemnification agreement is similar, not like, but similar, to an insurance policy. Most times an indemnification agreement says you will pay us (indemnify) for any money we spend because of your actions that have cost us money, including our costs and attorney’s fees.

An insurance policy is slightly different than indemnification policy for two reasons.

1.   An insurance policy is very specific on what if covers. If it is not written in the policy as something that is insured, then you will not get money.

2.   You pay for a policy. The amount of money you pay is based on the risk; the greater the risk, the more money you pay for the policy.

Indemnification agreements in the past have been narrow and focused on specific issues that the parties negotiate. The indemnification agreement said if something you did brings us into a lawsuit, you have to reimburse us for our costs if we are sued because of what you did. Indemnification agreements were written into contracts as part of the overall deal.

An Example would be:

A manufacturer makes a product with a defect, and the retailer is sued because of the defect by the consumer who purchased the product. The liability issues are set forth because the agreement says the retailer must be sued or there must be liability or a claim.

First Problem: Consideration

For a contract to be valid there must be consideration. Consideration is a benefit flowing from one party to the other party. Normally, consideration is money. If a contract and a course of dealing exist between two parties, if one party now wants an indemnification agreement signed, there must be new consideration. You have to pay for the new agreement to be a contract and to be binding. No consideration, no contract.

Second Problem: Overly Broad

The indemnification agreements I am seeing recently have been very broad and cover everything. There are major issues with a document this broad because it is impossible to comply with. By that I mean there are realistic limits to what can be indemnified. The major item controlling indemnification agreements is money. If you don’t have a bank account with enough cash in the account to cover the indemnification bill when it comes due, why sign the agreement to begin with?

1.   You can only sign what you can pay for.

Unless you are dealing with broken products (replacement) or fixed amounts (breach of contract), you can only sign an indemnification agreement that has limits that you can afford. If you sign an indemnification agreement knowing there are no way you can pay for it, you are creating additional problems; misrepresentation and fraud (see below). If you can’t pay the bill when it comes due, you will either file bankruptcy and or go out of business.

Make sure you know how much indemnification will cost you and whether or not you can deal with the bill. If you don’t have the cash, then you better have an insurance policy.

2.   You can only sign what your insurance policy says it will cover.

99% of the time, an indemnification agreement is really based on your insurance company stepping up and writing a check. The insurance company does that because:

A.   There is a legitimate claim covered by the policy.

B.   The claim is within the limits of the policy.

C.  The insurance company knew about the indemnification and agreed to it in advance! (Oh?)

If your policy is not broad enough, does not cover everything covered in the indemnification, you are again on the hook yourself. Your commercial policy is very different from your homeowner’s policy. Your commercial policy says it covers everything on the list of covered items in the policy. If the claim is not on the list, you have no insurance coverage.

Your insurance policy is written to pay claims, not necessarily contracts. If the indemnification is not based on a claim or legal liability, your insurance policy may just ignore the issue. The insurance company is not contractually required to pay what is not covered in the policy.

3.   If your insurance company does not know about the indemnification and agree to it, you still may not have coverage. You are back to writing a check.

Your insurance company in many cases can cover indemnification; however, many policies require knowledge in advance or in some cases need to approve indemnification. Sending an indemnification claim to an insurance company based on a contract you signed without the insurance company knowing about the indemnification agreement in advance is an easy way to get the claim denied or the policy non-renewed the next time it comes up for renewal.

4.   Signing an indemnification agreement without the ability to back it up is a misrepresentation in some states.

Misrepresentation pierces the corporate veil making you personally liable for the claims. (The sole exception to this MAYBE if you are an LLC; however several states have not ruled that an LLC can be pierced for misrepresentation and fraud.) Simply put, you sign a contract knowing you cannot complete the contract that is called misrepresentation and maybe fraud. Misrepresentation and fraud on the part of the owner of a corporation, when dealing with monetary issues, is a way to pierce the corporate veil. Piercing the corporate veil is one way of making your personal assets liable for the claims against your business.

This might be a stretch in some cases, but it is clearly within the realm of possibilities, especially if you have a lot of personal assets. Attorneys and insurance companies work harder if they know there is a payoff.

If you can’t fulfill the indemnification agreement, and you have no insurance to cover it, you better not sign it.

5.   You should not indemnify someone for something that you are not liable for.

This is simple. If you don’t owe the money, why would you say you owe the money? Many of these agreements are asking for indemnification for issues that you have no legal liability for. It is hard to be liable for how a product is used if they do not read the instructions. An example would be an employee of a retailer store is demonstrating your product without reading the instructions, attending the tech clinic or understanding the product. During the demonstration to the consumer, he injures the consumer.

Why would that be your fault and why should you pay for it? Yet a few indemnification agreements I’ve read lately would require the manufacture to pay for the injuries.

As a manufacturer you are not legally liable for that claim. It is not your fault; you were not negligent. However, the indemnification agreement you signed said you would pay for any claim based on your product. The consumer has a claim against the retailer, because of the product, but not because the product was defective. The retailer is solely liable for the claim, and you should not be.

A.  You should only indemnify someone for what you are responsible for.

Conversely, you should agree to indemnify someone for what you are liable for. If it is your fault, you should pay. Many indemnification agreements are being written because the cost of getting a manufacturer or liable party to pay up exceeds the amount owed. I understand that reasoning, and it is sound and smart.

A good example of these is: you are running an event on property owned by a third party. You accept the money for the event, set up the course, review the entrants and totally control the event. The landowner’s sole responsibility in the event was providing the land and pointing out any known or reasonably foreseeable dangers on the land.

If someone is hurt in the event and sues the landowner, the event promoter should protect the landowner.

B.  You should not indemnify someone for what you do not have control over.

If the landowner is told by the event promoter that he cannot tell the event promoter how to run the event, the landowner should not be liable. The landowner has no control over the event. Therefore, the landowner should not be liable.

The manufacturer can only be liable for the product. If the sales person working for the retailer tells the consumer that this product will save their lives and prevent all injuries contrary to the manufacturer’s warnings, manual, instructions and marketing, then the manufacturer should not pick up the tab for the injured consumer. The manufacturer had no control over the salesperson, did not even know the salesperson existed, and therefore, should not be liable for someone they have no control over.

A manufacture could be liable if they have not disclaimed the warranty of merchantability or the warranty of fitness for a particular purpose, but that is for another article.

C.  You should only indemnify someone for what your insurance company agrees to indemnify someone for.

That means you should only indemnify someone for:

a.   What you can control.

b.   What you are liable for.

c.   What insurance policy says it will cover?

But they are my friends; they would never sue me based on the agreement!

They might not, but your friend may not always be in control of that agreement. Anyone who becomes a beneficiary or an owner of the contract can use the indemnification to sue you. The two best examples of this are:

A Bankruptcy Trustee: A bankruptcy trustee is an attorney whose job is to find every dime that may be owed to the bankrupt business. Any contract that has not been fulfilled, any invoice that has not been paid, and any indemnification agreement that may have money tied available, will be fair game. If the Bankruptcy Trustee can determine if the business that signed the indemnification agreement owes the bankrupt business money, the Trustee by law, must get the money back.

The Bankruptcy Trustee will sue in the name of the Bankrupt Company claiming indemnification for an earlier claim. You will think you are free and clear because the company you signed the indemnification agreement with filed bankruptcy. However, the Bankruptcy Trustee will come rowing back to the courtroom and hold you liable to the point of forcing you to file bankruptcy.

The Insurance Company under the Subrogation clause of an insurance policy believing the indemnification agreement allows them to collect from you. Every insurance policy has a subrogation clause. That means that the insurance company has the right to recover from anyone who caused the claim that the insurance company wrote a check for. Insurance companies will spend days looking for anyone who they can recover money from, and an indemnification agreement is a perfect opportunity. I would guess that 30% or more of the lawsuits in the US are insurance company subrogation claims.

Subrogation claims can be filed by worker’s comp accidents, car accidents, general liability or health insurance claims.

Again, the lawsuit will be in the name of the company you signed the indemnification agreement with, and that company has no choice. If the company does not cooperate with the insurance company, the original claim may not get paid. Insurance companies will finance the lawsuit, so there are no legal games to be played; they know what they want, and they understand the cost of getting it.

If you want Indemnification Agreements…. And you should then get them in a way that works for everyone.

Spending time money legal fees on an agreement that won’t be used or cannot be collected on is a waste of time.

1.   Be realistic.

a.   With you asking to indemnify for what

b.   What they can pay or what insurance they can purchase and afford.

c.   With what you need indemnified, with what someone other than you is legally liable for.

2.   Be prepared to offer one in return. Why should I sign yours if you are going to leave me out in the cold for any claim or liability you cause? Besides mutual indemnification, agreements take out the consideration issue if written correctly.

3.   Make sure it is signed by the right person. A corporation has officers. The board of directors of the corporation authorizes the officers to sign agreements for the corporation. An indemnification agreement is a big deal so make sure the person signing it has the authority to sign the agreement. Having a sales person or sales manager sign the agreement is a waste of trees.

4.   An indemnification agreement without a Certificate of Insurance or an Additional Insured document that is tied to the Indemnification Agreement, not just with it, is worthless.

The certificate of insurance must be legally tied to the indemnification agreement or both are worthless. There is no insurance to cover the indemnification and not money to indemnify the problem.

5.   Have an attorney write your indemnification agreement so it works.

One last point

Signing indemnification agreements may increase your insurance rates. Basically, instead of insuring you, your policy is not insuring dozens of other businesses and their employees. Your insurance company, if they continue to renew your policy, may increase your premium because the risk has increased.

(Insurance companies also do this based on the number of Additional Insured’s you issue and the coverage you make available to the Additional insured’s. Again, that is another article for another day.)

Indemnification agreements work, but only if written correctly and written with knowledge of how and why they work.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

If you like this let your friends know or post it on FB, Twitter or LinkedIn

Copyright 2012 Recreation Law (720) Edit Law

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By Recreation Law          Rec-law@recreation-law.com   James H. Moss                  Jim Moss

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Kids get hurt and some kids die

If you want your kids to play sports, enjoy the outdoors, and have fun, you have to accept the fact your kid will suffer an injury and some of those injuries are fatal.

If parents continue to sue volunteers and programs for their kids injuries, there are not going to be programs for kids. The facts of life say that the cost of providing a program for a kid by volunteers is going to reach a maximum, and those programs will end.

Most programs provide insurance for their volunteers. No matter how the coverage is provided, the volunteers own homeowner’s policy is the primary general liability policy. Eventually, when applying for homeowners insurance, there may be a question about volunteer activities. There is already a question about whether or not you have been sued in the past.

What about the time issues for a new volunteer. You want to be an assistant coach for your kids and the neighbor kids. You go to the first meeting and find out you have to take 20 hours of training before you can attend the first practice and several more hours after that. Is it worth the effort?

Think about the effects on our economy. No more free, after school, babysitting. Parents will have to trust their kids at home by themselves rather than sending them off to a volunteer.

Better, programs are going to require parents to be at all activities, including meetings and practices.

Seriously, would you take a kid backpacking knowing you be sued when you get home because he or she tripped over a stove and spilt hot pasta water on their foot. (Been there, took them to the hospital.)

So?

1.   Programs are going to have to step up to the bar and require parents to sign releases and/or acknowledgment of risk forms, which state:

a.   The parent is aware and understands all the risks of the sport or activity.

b.   The parent has watched all the required videos online.

c.   The parents agree to arbitration or mediation for all disputes and where applicable a limitation of damages.

2.   Volunteers are going to have to make the programs have an attorney prepare a release.

3.   Volunteers need to make sure they buy the maximum amount of liability coverage for their homeowner’s policy they can.

a.   You may consider an umbrella insurance policy to provide more coverage.

4.   You need to meet with parents and create minimums. If not enough parents are available for practices or games, the kids are sent home. If you say I need 10 parents to go with the 20 kids on this weekend camping trip and nine show up, you and the nine parents get a free weekend after you take all 10 kids home.

5.   If you are a volunteer or a parent, consider having all parents and volunteers take the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) Guide to Safe Scouting (GSS) program. More information on the BSA GSS can be found here.

a.   The BSA GSS safeguards kids but it will also protect you.

Don’t stick your neck out for the kids when their parents may chop them off.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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Copyright 2012 Recreation Law (720) Edit Law

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Insurance company release fails, even in the state where the company is located

Sport Underwriters.com release has some good points, but overall it has major flaws.

I received this release, which was provided with a quote for insurance. The quote was great. The quote required the insured to have a Waiver and Release System:

Waiver & Release System:

The insured must maintain a system to regularly secure signed Waiver and Release forms from participants. For minor participants, these waiver/release forms should be signed by a parent or guardian. Unintentional error on your part in securing Waiver and Release forms will not void your coverage in the event of a claim by a participant; however, your failure to maintain an adequate system to regularly secure Waiver and Release forms will void your coverage in the event of a claim. All waivers & medical release forms must be approved by underwriters; if you do not have one, we will provide for you.

Overall, that is a good thing. It is also not so different from what most insurance companies want to achieve. However, very few make it such a mandatory issue.

However, I am curious if their system allows for states to not have a system if they are prohibited by law or where releases have no legal value. (See: States that do not Support the Use of a Release.) Montana not only does not allow the use of a release, if an outfitter is found using one, their state license will be yanked, and they will be prohibited from engaging in any business.

Let’s look at the release itself:

This release came from a Sport Underwriters.com. The release also says it is a division of Sport and Special Event Insurance Agency USA which can be found here. That agency is located in New York, which does not allow the use of a release for commercial activities. (See New York Law Restricting the Use of Releases)

The release in its first paragraph states it covers “traveling to and from activity sites in which I am about to engage.”Some states consider transportation to be defined as a “public policy” which is not covered by a release. Some states allow a release to cover transportation if it is incidental to the activity; however, this release does not go deep enough into the issue, in my opinion, to make it effective to stop a suit over a car or bus accident.

The release also states in bold letters that the signor “…will wear approved protective gear as decreed by the governing body of the sport…” Very few outdoor recreation programs have a governing body that decrees safety gear. Some state or federal regulations may require some gear such as PFDs on whitewater for commercial operators, but very little in the rest of the industry.

The release, midway down the page, has a page for the signor to fill in the name of the company or person the release protecting. This is just plain confusing. What if that is skipped, is the release invalid? What if they spell the name wrong or put the wrong name down?

Then the release starts using the term releasees. Releasees is the term applied to the name in the blank. The language is quite broad, but the people being released are, by nature of the way the release is written, very narrowly defined. I generally, in any document being used with the general consumer, avoid using a legal term. It just becomes confusing for the consumer to understand, if they read the document and can make judges and juries mad.  Use the name of the company so that everyone knows no matter how confusing, at least who is being protected.

The release also says you are indemnifying the releasee. I’ve not read a single decision that allows indemnification to work in a release. There is a major difference between indemnifying against losses and stopping them to begin with, unless the indemnification language is written very specifically for a specific reason.

The release has two areas for signatures. One area is for adults to sign, and one area is for parents to sign. Consequently, either you are going to have a parent sign twice or signature line that is blank. There is no place for the minor to sign the agreement.

The parental signage line is preceded by a clause.

FOR PARTICIPANTS OF MINORITY AGE: This is to certify that I, as a Parent, Guardian, Temporary Guardian with legal responsibility for this participant, do consent and agree not only to his/her release of all Releasees, but also to release and indemnify the Releasees from any and all liability incident o his/her involvement in these programs for myself, my heirs, assigns and next of kin.

First, the paragraph is directed to the participants in the first line then refers to the parent guardian. I’ve never heard of a Temporary Guardian. My concern with this is, volunteer youth leaders (church groups, Scout groups, etc.) probably believe they are temporary guardians and sign the form. The outfitter will probably accept the form, not knowing that the signature of the adult has no legal value.

Then the telltale clause that makes me think the release was not written by an attorney: “…agree not only to his/her release of all Releasees, but also to release and indemnify the Releasees…” This language says you are releasing the outfitter and releasing and indemnifying the outfitter. In effect, whoever wrote this stuttered.

Then hint two: “…for myself, my heirs, assigns and next of kin.” The person signing is signing away their right to sue, their heirs, which may include their child’s right to sue, and the adults next of kin. If the child is a minor, they have not signed away the child’s right to sue or the right to sue of the child’s heirs or next of kin.

None of the language above conforms to the required language in Colorado or Florida or the language that other statutes and court cases suggest. As far as a release against the claims of a minor this release fails miserably.

Finally, there is no jurisdiction and venue clause. See Four releases signed and all of them thrown out because they lacked one simple sentence!

My Legal Stutter

An attorney has to write your release. Your release must meet your state laws. Your release must meet the requirements of your program.

Free releases cost you a fortune. The amount of time you will spend defending a release given to you by an insurance company or created by someone who does not understand the legal ramifications is not worth it. No trial will cost you less than ten days, and if you are making less than $1500 in profit in ten days, you need to get another job. J

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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Copyright 2012 Recreation Law (720) Edit Law

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