Sports and Social Clubs: The real risk of being sued

Once upon a time …

It´s Wednesday night. You have just had time to grab a shower, a bite to eat and than make the mad dash down to the local church hall to run your Salsa class. You have two new members joining you tonight, and you are looking forward to meeting them. The class begins and after a few warm up numbers, you put on a particularly long and racy track that gets everyone up on their feet and really getting into the swing of the beat.

Disaster strikes, the male member of the new couple collapses with an undiagnosed heart problem and is pronounced dead at the scene.

If you don´t already feel bad enough over the tragedy, your world is about to be turned even further upside down, when a few weeks later you receive a letter from a solicitor acting for the deceased´s wife making a claim for negligence against you and your Salsa Club for the cause of her husband´s death.

This happens to be a purely fictitious example of what might happen in any number of sports and social clubs being run every night and day, up and down the country. Over-exagerated? Couldn´t happen to you. Guess what? Think again!

Don´t ignore the possibility of an uninsured claim against you

We have personal experience of mediating a serious injury claim against one of our smaller sports club clients in 2012 that resulted in a five figure payout as compensation to the injured party. The fact that everyone agreed that there was no fault and no way of foreseeing or avoiding the accident, didn´t stop the claim from proceeding. If our client hadn´t been insured, the claim would have meant he would have had to either re-mortgage or even sell his family home to settle the amount involved. These things can, and take our word for it, do happen more often than you might think.

If you operate any kind of sports club or social association, we would strongly recommend you carry, at the very least, a third party, all risks, insurance policy. If the activity you are involved in includes any kind of physical activity, then we would also recommend personal accident cover as well. The combined insurance policy for a small club can often amount to over £650 a year, but the consequences of not being insured could cost you everything you own.

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Low Risk is not the same as no risk

We are the first to admit the risks we are discussing here are small, but that is not the same as non-existent.

In 2012 we know of at least two separate injury claims against small sports clubs. It may sound like scare mongering, but the reality of running any kind of club or association uninsured and as an unincorporated association means you, and every one of your members, have put every asset you each own on the line.

In a world where ambulance-chasing solicitors advertise on the TV every day, legal claims for losses and injuries are unfortunately becoming more common.

Operating a small sports or social club with the correct insurance policies in place is now the only way we would recommend you continue, no matter how small you perceive the risks may be.

And please don´t make the mistake of believing that just because you are organising an event for a group of friends the risks become any less. As sad as it may seem, no matter how worthy or well intentioned your involvement may be, if someone suffers a loss or injury as a result of an event your club has organised, you expose yourself to the risk of being sued. Some people may have the personal integrity to accept it was just an accident and decide not to pursue a claim. Others won´t, and once solicitors become involved, you will just see the legal costs you have to meet go through the roof, even if the claim subsequently proves unsuccessful.

Just returning to our poor Salsa club example above. If the organiser carried a third party, all risks insurance policy, the chances are it would not have paid out as there was no blame for the accident here. A personal accident insurance policy, however, would have covered the claim. Having no insurance, would mean the organiser would face a very costly legal bill defending the claim, and becoming personal liable for settling the claim if proved in Court. What many people never realise until it is too late, is that depending on the way the club was constituted, every single member of that club, whether they were there on the night of the accident or not, could also be held jointly and severally liable for settling the claim.

If we have said enough to worry you, than that is good news. We have probably alerted you to a risk you have never perceived as applying to you before. If you act to minimise that exposure then the time we have spent writing these few paragraphs will have been worthwhile.

Ralph Elliott-King, helps run a national amateur sports association and is an expert on advising other sports and social clubs on the risks they face. MAAP is best placed to advise you on whether it would be appropriate to incorporate or not.

If you would like to discuss your position free of charge, and without obligation, then please call Ralph Elliott-King on 01202 474545. He will be pleased to help.

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