March 2021: Topics include COVID-19 vaccine questions, new OSHA guidelines for the workplace, medical marijuana, and discrimination legislation.
Use the Chapter House Self-Inspection checklist to review your property and life-safety risk management.
A sorority chapter was having a co-sponsored event with a fraternity chapter on campus in hopes of raising funds for the fraternity’s philanthropy. The event was held at the fraternity chapter house. Some of the fraternity members setup a make-shift slip-and-slide using tarps and spikes. The individuals that setup the slip-and-slide did not push the spikes all the way into the ground. The sorority chapter women had nothing to do with the design of the slip-and-slide.
About twenty minutes after the event started, a non-member guest went down the slip-and-slide and severely injured her leg on one of the spikes that was sticking up from the ground. The claimant’s estimated medical expenses are nearly $40,000. The claimant’s attorney has requested a settlement of $300,000 from the fraternity and sorority in question and has threatened further legal action if that amount is not paid to the claimant within 30 days.
The fraternity’s insurance company plans to offer the claimant a settlement of $100,000, and the sorority’s insurance company has offered to contribute twenty percent of the proposed settlement amount (equal to $20,000) to the fraternity’s insurance company.
Risk management lessons
This claim demonstrates that your chapters, volunteers and members can still be named in lawsuits even when they had little to do with an injury occurring other than co-sponsoring said event. In this case, if the sorority had inspected the slip-and-slide and realized the danger that the metal spikes posed (as well as the risks associated with a makeshift slip-and-slide, in general), the injury may have been prevented. This claim demonstrates that your chapters, volunteers and members can still be named in lawsuits even when they had little to do with an injury occurring other than co-sponsoring said event. In this case, if the sorority had inspected the slip-and-slide and realized the danger that the metal spikes posed (as well as the risks associated with a makeshift slip-and-slide, in general), the injury may have been prevented.
Issues to discuss
- What safer alternatives are there to a slip-and-slide activity?
- What measures should the sorority chapter have put in place to ensure the safety of events that they are co-sponsoring with another fraternity chapter, especially when the event is being held at the fraternity chapter house?
- What other takeaways can you glean from this example to improve risk management at your location?
Two members attended a semi-formal event in which alcohol was served by a third-party vendor. Both members were over 21 and reportedly had been drinking at the event. It is believed that they were walking home from the party and became disoriented and lost. One member tripped and fell as she walked into the street. The other member tried to help her up, when they were both struck by a car. One member was killed and the other member sustained serious injuries.
At this point, no charges have been filed against the sorority; however, the statute of limitations in the state in question has yet to expire.
Issues to discuss
- Do your policies address transportation to and from official events?
- Fortunately, in this situation, the alcohol was served by a licensed, insured third-party vendor. Discuss how using licensed, insured third-party vendors is so important to managing your risk.
- What additional risk management policies should have been in place to minimize the likelihood of a claim like this happening again?
A member attended a party at an “unofficial” chapter house. The “unofficial” chapter house was actually an apartment, in which four chapter members lived together. The apartment came to be known on campus as your organization’s chapter house. The member was very intoxicated, and some other chapter members arranged for a fraternity chapter member to drive her home. The fraternity chapter member accidentally ran over her as he was backing out of her driveway.
In the discovery process of the claim, it was revealed that a traveling consultant from the national organization had visited with this specific chapter the week before. The plaintiff’s attorney found evidence that the traveling consultant had participated in drinking games with the chapter members.
The insurance company settled the claim on behalf of the plaintiff for just under $1M.
Issues to discuss
- Do you have locations that are not official chapter houses that might appear to be chapter houses? If so, what can you do to minimize “unofficial” chapter houses from appearing as chapter houses on your campus?
- How does the traveling consultant’s actions and behavior contribute to the negligence and liability of the sorority?
- What risk management policies should have been in place to minimize the likelihood of a claim like this happening again?
One of the more challenging exposures of writing a women’s fraternity or sorority is keeping the insurance and risk management recommendations “contemporary” to the changing dynamics of a campus women’s organization. As the size of the chapter increase in membership numbers, more and more sorority sisters are gravitating to alternate housing where several of them may live together. On those campuses where sorority chapter houses are not as common and/or a sorority does not physically have a chapter house, it has been common for some of the sorority sisters to secure housing together.
Irrespective of the reason, the number of “living arrangements” outside of a traditional chapter house is increasing and are being referred to and/or being considered by the campus community as the “X Sorority” chapter house. We refer to these locations as unofficial houses.
These unofficial houses pose a number of problems to the national organizations and, ultimately, to the insurance coverage. The concerns include the following:
- Unofficial houses are not owned by the women’s fraternity/sorority and are typically less safe
- Residents do not believe that the rules of the organization extend to the housing arrangement, as they would argue that the situation is just a few sorority sisters securing housing on their own
- In the absence of having an actual chapter house and with the majority of the residents being affiliated with one specific sorority, it is not too big of a leap of logic for the campus to construe this residence as the legitimate sorority chapter house
We have seen a significant increase in claims that are coming from those locations that are not the actual chapter house, but instead from these unofficial houses.
We have identified this concern to your national leadership. We also know that, as a volunteer, you are more apt to be aware of the existence of these types of housing arrangements. Should you have one of these types of arrangements on your campus, we would ask that you bring it to the attention of your leadership. Upon their review, we have encouraged them to involve us, if needed, in addressing the housing situation specifically.
The employee fell on the ramp outside the house and injured his leg. The insured disputed the employee’s injury because he was working the next day and was not limping. The injured employee then told the insured he would be off work because the doctor did not know the full extent of his injury without an MRI. Despite the concerns of the insured, the claim was accepted. The employee was released to work, but with restrictions with which the insured could not comply. The doctor requested surgery on the employee’s knee, which the employee wants to do; however due to the employee being overweight, he could not find a surgeon who would operate. The issue is whether the carrier is liable for the injured employee’s gastric bypass surgery, which the employee looked into before the injury. The carrier submitted their opinion to panel doctors, and they found the carrier is liable for the bariatric surgery. The injured worker’s knee surgery is on hold until the bariatric surgery is completed, and the employee is a better candidate for knee surgery.
In summarization, there was an admitted knee injury but due to non-industrial health issues (obesity), the employee’s attorney and adjuster agreed to an Accredited Medical Exam specifically on need for bariatric surgery on industrial basis. The report confirmed the liability on the carrier to provide surgery, which is scheduled soon. The workers’ compensation carrier has paid $59,757 thus far and has set aside an additional $78,884 in reserves (what the carrier expects to pay additionally).
Issues to Discuss
- What procedures do you have in place to prevent slips and falls?
- What policies could have been in place to prevent a claim like this from happening in the first place?
According to a report completed by the Chapter Advisor, there were three chapter members conversing about the fire escape outside the window of the second floor. One member, who admitted she had previously been out on the escape, showed the other two new members that it was possible to go out onto the fire escape from the window of the room. The older member successfully got out on the escape. One of the freshman women attempted to do the same and slipped and fell one story to the ground. The women fractured her jaw in 8 places requiring surgery, lost 7-8 teeth and received various soft tissue injuries related to the fall from 15 feet.
Parents of member have retained an attorney and a reserve of $350,000 has been placed on the claim by the insurance company.
The fire escapes were used by the house residents as “balconies.”
- Risk Management solution: Written rules, by laws, contracts, handbooks or other correspondence methods should address inappropriate use of roofs, bodies of water, fire escapes, basements, attics, etc.
The prior House Director knew that the residents were using the fire escape as balconies.
- Risk Management solution: A specific person or persons should be responsible for making sure that rules are adhered to. This person or persons must have authority and make sure all persons conform to these rules. Persons living in the house must be held accountable to these rules.
The access ways to the fire escape had no signs posted.
- Risk Management solution: Signage is very important for instructions and awareness purposes. Post signs in access ways that clearly indicate that the fire escape is to only be used for emergency purposes.
A light which was affixed to the wall just above the fire escape was not working.
- Risk Management solution: The appropriate employee should be conducting comprehensive house inspections and giving the property manager written items that need correction. This should also include a follow-up procedure to make sure that corrections are made in a timely fashion.
The witnesses all stated that they have never been advised of any prohibitions against using the fire escape.
- Risk Management solution: House Corporation should have a meeting with the Chapter members once every semester to educate the members on the House Rules and the minutes of the meeting should reflect said instructions. Signs should be posted near the escapes that state “for emergency use only.”
A chair was present on the third-floor fire escape which had been present for three years according to one witness.
- Risk Management solution: An assumption could be made that the members were using the chair to sit in while using the fire escape in an improper manner. Clearly communicate to employees the procedures for reporting to the House Corporation any House Rule violations.
One witness stated that the house members regularly used the fire escapes as balconies and were never told not to.
- Risk Management solution: House Corporation should have a meeting with the Chapter members once every semester to educate the members on the House Rules.
A sprinkler head in a closet on the second floor went off resulting in water damage to the first and second floor, as well as the basement. The exact cause of the sprinkler head going off is not able to be determined. It is believed that the heat in the closet may have been a factor. The expert hired to determine the cause noted that the sprinkler heads in the house were approximately 30 years-old and were either corroded or leaking.
The final cost of this claim was $498,444. There is no subrogation potential against the manufacturer of the sprinkler system or the company who installed it as the House Corporation did not maintain any records regarding when the system was installed or when it was inspected.
Issues to discuss
- Is your sprinkler system inspected on a regular basis? How do you ensure that the sprinkler system is inspected annually?
- Do you maintain all of the records from the inspections?
- Does your house have an alarm when the sprinkler system is activated?
A member was using a deep fryer in the kitchen to heat oil. The member walked away to another room, and the fryer caught the cabinet and microwave on fire. The fire damage was contained to the kitchen. However, there was smoke damage throughout the house.
A total of $47,972.09 was paid out for the claim.
Issues to discuss
- Are residents allowed use of the commercial kitchen equipment? If so, what are the regulations regarding the use of the commercial kitchen equipment? See below for our risk management response to this practice.
- Discuss safe alternatives to the members using the commercial kitchen equipment
A fire broke out in the attic of the chapter house from what they believe was some insulation that fell between the wall and flooring landing on some wires and ignited. The attic was not sprinklered and sustained all of the damage below. However, as the claims progress in the cleaning up and repairing of the attic space, the state building code regulations had to be addressed. The wing where the fire originated was built in the early 1900s, and they could not let the members back into that area until some of the original construction items were upgraded even though they were not affected by the fire (e.g. some of the members had to be moved to other facilities, the insured had to pay for additional meals as the kitchen could not be used).
The code compliance issues drove the cost of claim over $1,000,000.
Issues to discuss
- What policies do you have in place in the event of a severe and lengthy property claim? (i.e. where will you house displaced chapter members? How can you minimize extra expenses associated with the claim?)
- Do you regularly inspect your attic space? Is your attic sprinklered?