As teams and leagues return to the field this spring, there are common questions arising related to the liability challenges for organizations, insurance coverage, and minimizing risk in a pandemic world.

To address some of the issues, US Lacrosse hosted a webinar on March 11 that pulled together experts who serve on the organization’s Insurance & Risk Management Committee. The panelists were Lori Windolf Crispo (RPS Bollinger), Mark Otto (Captive Insurance), Brad Robinson (NCAA), and Joseph Mannes (Women's Game Official). Ann Kitt Carpenetti, vice president of lacrosse operations at US Lacrosse, served as the session moderator.

“We’re hoping to provide a little bit of comfort to those of you who feel like you are operating without a net,” said Crispo, president of RPS Bollinger and the primary liaison with US Lacrosse as its insurance administrator since 2001.

Crispo noted that a recent change to US Lacrosse’s insurance program has been the addition of a Communicable Disease Exclusion to the liability policy. This became effective on January 1, 2021. She noted that this exclusion is not unique to US Lacrosse’s policy, but widespread across the insurance landscape.

“We haven’t been singled out with US Lacrosse, its all part of the trend globally within the insurance industry,” Crispo said. The exclusion falls under the category of ‘Act of God’ as something that can’t be controlled or easily managed.

Citing an example under the General Liability policy, Crispo presented a scenario of a coach who contracts COVID, is asymptomatic, and passes along the virus during a game, resulting in a lawsuit.

Under the Communicable Disease exclusion, there is no coverage for any claims stemming from the actual, alleged or threat of disease transmission. 

Even so, Otto explained that program leaders can take comfort from the fact that legally, COVID-19 lawsuits have been minimal and that many attorneys are not taking on these cases.

“As a practical matter, these cases are very difficult to prove from a tracing standpoint to the source of the liability,” he said. “Attorneys are going to be reluctant to take on a case when there’s no deep pocket to pursue, i.e., no insurance coverage.”

Otto also highlighted the fact that state and federal immunity laws have been enacted to protect businesses and organizations from COVID-related claims if they have been following public health guidelines.

Robinson noted that avoiding risk and preventing risk through the deployment of different strategies is also viable for sports organizations. He reminded program leaders that all organizations are in the same boat.

“There’s no organization out there with insurance coverage specifically for COVID claims,” Robinson said. “This is an insurance industry stance that really should be no surprise.”

While the most drastic form of risk management is specifically eliminating activity, Robinson explained that less severe actions can also be utilized to reduce the probability of the virus risk. These include wearing masks, adhering to proper distancing guidelines, and following proper hygiene standards.

“When you are participating in a sport in this environment, there is the assumption of risk on a personal level as a participant or as an official,” Robinson said.

Mannes also reminded organizations to continue prioritizing all the safety protocols that existed prior to the COVID pandemic. He highlighted abuse prevention policies, concussion management protocols, and emergency action plan implementation.

“Are you following the rules, and do you have administrative and governance policies,” he said. “And most important, are you certifying your coaches and officials? All of these things create a framework for ensuring appropriate risk management within your organization, protecting you and all the people who are part of your program.”

The panel’s recommendations for risk management by sports organizations included following US Lacrosse’s Return to Play Guidelines and always putting the safety of players, staff, and volunteers above everything else. Adhering to local and state guidelines, as well as the best practices outlined by the CDC, was also encouraged.