Published online at Boosterland.com
It was a booster club’s worst nightmare: A referee at a charity volleyball game injured her ankle when the stand she was sitting on collapsed. The booster club turned to the school district for help, only to be told that the district’s insurance would not cover the referee’s worker’s compensation claim, and that they considered the club financially responsible. The ensuing legal wrangling led to the dissolution of the booster club under threats of a lawsuit.
“I’m just a mom, you know,” Karen Trimble, the former club president, told the local newspaper. “I do think people are worried because why should you volunteer if [the school district] didn’t stand behind us?”
In another case, a booster volunteer successfully navigated the existing legal protections of the Volunteer Protection Act to avoid liability when a volunteer working for the high school sued him for personal injuries after a ticket booth they were constructing fell on her.
These cases seem to send conflicting messages about booster club insurance. Do clubs really need it? In some places, it’s required. A school district in Southern California recently announced that booster clubs would be required to carry liability insurance in the minimum amount of $1 million combined single limit. In places where the district’s liability isn’t clear, it’s a mistake to assume your school district has your club’s back, according to Sandra Pfau Englund of Parent Booster USA:
“Booster clubs and schools often mistakenly believe that the school’s insurance will cover liability and legal claims of its school booster clubs. School insurance policies, however, typically don’t cover the activities and liability of the officers and volunteers of the booster clubs because these organizations are usually considered separate legal entities from the school.”
What does it mean to operate without insurance?
Booster club volunteers are protected to an extent under the Volunteer Protection Act of 1997, and individual state laws protecting volunteers. However, only about half of the state laws protect volunteers beyond directors and officers, and both state and federal laws have numerous exceptions. The booster club volunteer who was found not liable in the ticket booth case would have been in a very different situation had he been towing passengers at a club-organized hay ride, for example. The Volunteer Protection Act provides immunity for volunteers only if:
The volunteer was acting within the scope of his or her responsibilities.
If appropriate or required, the volunteer was properly licensed, certified or authorized to act.
The harm was not caused by willful, criminal or reckless misconduct or gross negligence.
The harm was not caused by the volunteer operating a motor vehicle, vessel, or aircraft.
State and federal protections can be useful, but are not foolproof. So how might booster clubs without insurance ensure that their organization and volunteers are protected?
The National Booster Club Training Councilrecommends clubs form committees to develop risk management plans to identify, assess, and control potential risks, anticipating and planning to avoid risks too great to bear.
As school districts increasingly rely on booster clubs to bear the brunt of extracurricular financial needs (and close legal scrutiny follows), given the option many clubs choose to purchase insurance. In today’s litigation-happy society, there is no shortage of opportunities for your club to be held personally financially responsible for someone’s misfortune — Just ask the Dunbar Athletic Boosters Club, who faced a personal injury lawsuit when a woman slipped and fell on their premises.
What does it mean to have insurance?
There are five types of coverage booster clubs generally carry:
1. General Liability Insurance, which covers the club in the event of claims from accidents and injuries to individuals. Generally, coverage limits of $1,000,000 or $2,000,000 per occurrence are the norm.
2. Property Insurance, which covers loss of property or assets of the club, like damage to facilities, owned and rented equipment, and property/inventory related to merchandising or fundraising.
3. Accident Medical Insurance, which covers out-of-pocket medical expenses resulting from an accident at a sponsored activity or covered event. If a child breaks his arm at the booster-sponsored carnival, your organization and members won’t be personally on the hook for the cost of his emergency room visit.
4. Bonding Insurance, which will cover an organization’s loss of funds due to embezzlement and other forms of dishonesty or theft.
5. Director and Officer Liability Insurance, which offers personal liability coverage for officers and directors in their legal responsibilities serving the organization. Board members make a lot of decisions, and can be sued for any that they make individually or as a club — everything from the management of funds, to where to hold the bake sale. Coverage of up to $1,000,000 per occurrence is common.
Booster clubs can purchase basic general liability insurance for $90 – $200. Assuming your club purchases more comprehensive insurance, the cost would be around $500 a year.
Insurance decisions can be tricky, and can make or break a booster club. Organizations like Parentbooster.org and the National Booster Club Training Council offer extensive resources for booster officials, and can help board members decide what (if any) insurance is right for your club. Regardless of whether or not you decide to insure your club, it is important to be aware of risks and safeguard the future of your organization, your volunteers, and the programs you support.