ACA Insurance

I have started a paddle club in my area. I am thinking of adding ACA insurance to cover certain events. Has anyone had to use the ACA insurance, after someone has gotten hurt? If so, was the ACA easy to work with, or did they tend drag their feet, processing the claim? Thanks.

Georgia Canoeing Association
carried ACA insurance for the Southeastern Slalom and Downriver races for decades, but as far as I know, we never had an incident where a claim had to be submitted.

What bothered me was that liability issues seemed to spill over onto our club trip schedule, where I felt they did not belong. I consider it totally unreasonable to regard a trip leader or club membership liable for incidents that might occur during club trips. But lawyers in our club disagreed.

ACA and club insurance
Last October I attended the inaugural ACA Swiftwater Rescue Conference in west North Carolina. There was considerable discussion the first evening regarding liability for paddle sports vendors and organizers, including a panel discussion with some of the top ACA instructor trainer educators, most of whom had been expert witnesses in civil liability lawsuits, Charlie Walbridge, Slim Ray, Les Bechdel, Will Leverette, and Mike Mather.

Most of the discussion entailed strategies that could be used by outfitters to minimize legal liability, and discussions of topics such as negligence, gross negligence, implied contracts, informed consent, and the “shared adventurer model”.

I asked the panel if any of them had ever been involved in, or even been aware, of a civil action in which a “trip leader” on a club paddling trip, or paddling club officers, had been held liable for injuries sustained in a club trip. None were. They agreed that in such instances the lack of a fiduciary relationship between trip participants and the trip leader (i.e. the paddlers had not hired or paid the leader) meant that the trip leader did not have an implied contract with the group that would render the leader liable.

I later asked Will Leverette (who had been involved most often as an expert witness for both plaintiff and defense) whether payment of annual club dues would constitute a fiduciary arrangement that would render club officers more likely to be liable for injuries. He was of the opinion that it would not.

All seemed to be in agreement that paddling clubs should be organized according to the “shared adventurer model” and should have some bylaws stating that explicitly. They also seemed to agree that while sharing expenses for things like gas for shuttles, etc, was fine, trip leaders or club officers should not charge trip participants specifically for the trip.

I have been involved with a number of paddling clubs over the years and most of them have all had some type of annual or semi-annual paddling clinic or paddling school for which they charged an event fee. Everyone of them has required participants to be covered by ACA insurance, either by having an active ACA membership or paying a $5 event fee as well as sign the standard ACA waiver form.

I wish it was otherwise but that is the reality of the civil liability system that we live with (under).

Thanks for passing that along.
If it’s wrong, we’ll sue you.

No, actually, that accords with my walking-around-common-sense thoughts on the matter. My club might actually listen to reason, and stop having every club trip participant sign an individual waiver at the put-in. The shared adventurer concept seems to fit.

Lawyers know what other lawyers can do to you, so they will invariably advise you to protect yourself any way and every way you can. I suspect they will always advise club trip leaders to obtain consents for every trip and event.

This link has some key points of risk management for paddle sports instructors per Will Leverette (grandson of Frank Bell) who may have more expert witness experience with civil liability actions related to paddle sports than anyone else:

Note that this is directed towards ACA instructors. For ACA instructors there is probably always going to be a fiduciary relationship between the instructor and the students. Moreover, since there is a clear instructor - student relationship, the “shared adventurer model” does not apply.

Other options

– Last Updated: Feb-07-14 11:26 AM EST –

If you do not use ACA; to insure club outings, whom do you use? What companies offer liability protection for paddling clubs ?

One of the venues we have used in the past, will require us to have some sort of liability insurance. We have never had an incident , but a new city manager is requiring liability insurance to use the facility.

I don’t know if any

– Last Updated: Feb-07-14 11:54 AM EST –

The United States Canoe Association offers event liability insurance coverage for some events including canoe and kayak racing and cruising, on-water demonstration events, workshops and other practice/training events, but I don't believe they offer day to day coverage for paddling clubs that would cover club trips. I guess you could check with them:

Virtually every canoe and kayak clinic, club rendezvous, paddling school, or day trip that I have participated in either as an instructor, assistant instructor, safety boater, student, or member in the last 20 years has utilized the ACA insurance program. If there is a better alternative, I am not aware of it.

I have not personally heard of any club or entity that has relied upon the ACA coverage and had reason to regret it. That is not to say it might not have happened.

The ACA Paddle America Club insurance program rates are pretty reasonable. These are yearly rates for the entire club (2013 rates):

$100 - Less than 50 members
$150 - 50-99 members
$225 - 100+ members

Note that this fee does not mean everyone in the club is automatically an ACA member for a year. It used to be, and I believe still is the case that you get a $10 price break on the yearly fee for an individual ACA membership if you are a member of a club currently covered by the ACA Paddle America Club insurance program.

If the venue you wish to utilize requires your club to indemnify them, note that the ACA Paddle America Club program allows you to name third parties such as governmental agencies and land owners as "additional insured" under the annual policy, for a fee of $20 per year per additional insured.

Expert witnesses? Lay witnesses?
An expert lay witness testifies about specialized facts that may be relevant to a lawsuit, not about what the law is. A non-lawyer paddler has no business offering legal opinions on negligence, gross negligence, implied contracts, fiduciary duties or felony murder.

I’m an experienced patient. That hardly qualifies me to give advice on wilderness emergency medical care.

That said, if I were speaking as a lawyer, which I’m not, I’d probably say most of these fears about fellow paddler and trip leader liability, and the need for insurance, are way overblown.

But such is life in the litigious Nanny States of America.