Athletic sports embody everything about the competitive spirit while teaching players about team dynamics and the rules of fair play. But there is some degree of risk in playing the game – especially if the limits of strength, endurance and speed are pushed. “Athletes who push the limits sometimes don’t recognize their own limitations…,” says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). This can lead to injuries and illness, including sprains and strains, heat illness, concussions and heart failure.
Educational institutions, both public and private, and parks and recreation departments that sponsor competitive sports programs should have a safety and health program that promotes sound practices to help athletes play it safe and stay healthy. Programs may vary depending on the age of participants and the level of competition. In all cases, they should be reviewed routinely to help ensure they are current and comply with applicable state laws and athletic association bylaws as appropriate. They also should review the best practices promoted by athletic associations, such as the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), the National Federation of State High School Association, state high school and middle school athletic associations and coaches associations, among others.
Coaches, athletes, school officials and parents all play an important role in helping to ensure safe practices in competitive sports. When a player is not playing it safe or a health issue or injury is suspected, the player should be taken out of play. In instances of an injury or suspected injury or health issue, the player’s condition should be evaluated (including, as appropriate, an evaluation by a medical professional) and the player not returned to the game or sport program until medically released for play. Coaches and athletes should be trained in the signs and symptoms of health-related issues during conditioning, practice and play, including for heat illness, concussions and heart failure, among others, and take timely and appropriate responsive action to help mitigate the health impact.
Competitive sports – playing it safe programs and practices
Athletic programs should include sound risk control principles to help in injury prevention. Some program principles include, but are not limited to:
General risk management principles:
- Hire qualified, certified coaches and athletic trainers
- Establish and communicate a policy and procedure for reporting and addressing incidents of youth abuse and molestation. Educate all coaches, athletic trainers, athletes, other school officials and parents on your policy and procedure
- Ensure all paperwork is signed and received before the start of the season, including: Annual consent and acknowledgment of risk of injury forms and waivers signed by athletes and/or parent, good sportsmanship/conduct forms signed by athletes, annual proof of individual, parental or institutional health insurance (covering sport injuries), an annual medical exam/evaluation and immunization record from a qualified medical professional, giving clearance to play a particular sport
- Promote a drug-free environment
● Provide planned and supervised conditioning, practice, competition and travel
● Comply with applicable state laws and, for NCAA member institutions, all NCAA bylaws
Health, wellness and medical management:
- Have medical resources/qualified medical professionals in place in the event of an emergency, including the capability of early defibrillation per your state law
- Educate coaches and athletes on heat illness, sickle cell trait, heart disorders, staph infections (MRSA), sprain/strain and head injuries Put measures in place to mitigate the effects of extreme heat (rest breaks, fluids), and be prepared to respond to signs of heat illness. Provide conditioning and practice exercises within the capabilities of athletes for optimal readiness. Be aware of any medical restrictions for athletes regarding exercising and extreme heat. Teach athletes about the importance of good hygiene, especially regarding skin breaks, abrasions and skin infections, which could lead to staph infections/MRSA
- Have a written catastrophic injury response plan
- Have a written concussion management plan Consider the use of baseline testing for concussion management. Baseline testing provides a pre-injury capabilities score for memory, reaction times and cognitive processing and can help medical professionals make return-to-play decisions, post injury
- Review OSHA’s blood-borne pathogens standard to determine its applicability to your program
- Require a post-injury release form from a qualified medical professional before an injured athlete returns to play
Additional information for concussion mitigation and management
Concussions can be silent villains – the signs may not be readily detected. They can lead to brain damage, paralysis and, in some cases, death. To help coaches, athletes and parents identify and respond to concussions, a number of organizations offer information on concussion prevention and management, including the NCAA and the American Football Coaches Association. Additionally, the CDC, in partnership with leading organizations and experts, also provides Heads Up: Concussion in High School Sports. In addition to knowing the symptoms and what to do in the event of a concussion, “Heads Up” recommends a four-step Heads Up Action Plan before the season starts, as well as educating athletes and parents.
Facility and equipment:
- Use safety standards when purchasing mandated personal protective equipment. Maintain and repair equipment at all times. Have a process for athletes to inform coaching staff when equipment becomes unsafe or illegal
- Provide mandated protective equipment. Train athletes on and enforce use and proper fit
- Routinely inspect your athletic area/facility, including the warm up area, and playing fields for maintenance, repair and good housekeeping
- Be prepared for lightning. Education and prevention are key to avoiding risks associated with lightning strikes
An athletic program based on sound safety and health management principles can help schools and park and recreation departments play it safe!
The information provided in this document is provided by Travelers and is intended for use as a guideline and is not intended as, nor does it constitute, legal or professional advice. Travelers does not warrant that adherence to, or compliance with, any recommendations, best practices, checklists, or guidelines will result in a particular outcome. In no event will Travelers, or any of its subsidiaries or affiliates, be liable in tort or in contract to anyone who has access to or uses this information for any purpose. Travelers does not warrant that the information in this document constitutes a complete and finite list of each and every item or procedure related to the topics or issues referenced herein. Furthermore, federal, state, provincial, municipal or local laws, regulations, standards or codes, as is applicable, may change from time to time and the user should always refer to the most current requirements. This material does not amend, or otherwise affect, the provisions or coverages of any insurance policy or bond issued by Travelers, nor is it a representation that coverage does or does not exist for any particular claim or loss under any such policy or bond. Coverage depends on the facts and circumstances involved in the claim or loss, all applicable policy or bond provisions, and any applicable law.
What we have learned from the fall semester of 2020 that can help our clients as they potentially re-open in 2021:
- Most campus outbreaks have been related to small and large gatherings without masking and without social distancing and have occurred in bars, in on and off campus residences, and in Greek housing.
- Students with COVID-19 are frequently asymptomatic so universal masking, physical distancing and contact tracing with testing will help prevent transmission.
- The virus is primarily transmitted via aerosols/droplets; therefore, property physical distancing in groups will help minimize the spread, along with universal mask requirements.
- Ventilation is critical to reducing the transmission of the virus.
- There is little evidence to show secondary transmission is occurring in student-to-student in instructional settings.
- Though the issue with surface exposure has been shown to pose a lesser threat, high touch areas should still be cleaned and disinfected regularly.
- It is essential to get the students involved in the public health practices and plans for the chapter house.
- Students must be involved in planning, messaging and the development of safer social activities. Review our Planning Safer Events resource.
- Herd immunity will only be achieved with widespread public acceptance of the vaccine.
- Universities who provide frequent testing for COVID-19 asymptomatic or presymptomatic students enhance the health, safety, and well-being of the campus and broader community.
- If a chapter house does allow for quarantined members, the room should have private bathroom facilities and be supplied with a thermometer, sanitizing wipes, tissue, soap, hand sanitizers and toiletries.
As in all things during the pandemic, it is critical that you be aware of what your national organizations and institutions are doing in terms of COVID-19 guidance and recommendations. The Greek system continues to be looked at for their leadership, and it is a great opportunity for the Greeks on every campus to show their support for the well-being of the fellow students, the campus and the broader community.
We also recommend that you review the American College Health Association’s Guidelines for Reopening for Institutes of Higher Education for the Spring Semester 2021.
Important reminder: As always, check with your national organization regarding any and all COVID-19 risk management advice before proceeding.
We have recently written up our position on the ability of employers to require their employees to take the vaccine. We are also beginning to get questions about whether the sororities/fraternities will be allowed to also require their members to be vaccinated.
In December, we took the opportunity to discuss this matter with three university administrators from a public institution and one administrator from a private university, along with extensive research on this developing subject, to get a feel as to what the university community was considering on this subject of requiring its students to be vaccinated before they can continue to be on campus.
What follows are some questions and responses that we posed:
By what authority do institutions of higher education (IHEs) currently hold the power to require the vaccinations that pre-COVID were already in place?
This authority comes from each state’s Department of Health: a public institution generally follows the guidance, whereas a private institution is able to require more vaccinations than what the Department of Health addresses. There also exists a statute that allows governmental entities such as a university to engage in “all acts necessary” to preserve the health and safety of its students and employees dating back to the early 1900s.
Currently do IHEs allow for exceptions to their vaccination policy and, if so, what are they?
Yes, each administrator responded that exceptions are allowed. They are 1) for health reasons in which an individual has reason to believe it could put their health at risk and 2) for religious beliefs that are inconsistent with taking vaccines. We did hear that very few of their students seek exceptions. According to Peter H. Meyers, an emeritus professor at the George Washington University law school and previously served as director of the law school’s Vaccine Injury Litigation Clinic, 95 to 99 percent of students will not fit into the narrow categories of exemptions that are allowed.
Do you anticipate offering additional exceptions for the COVID-10 vaccinations to your faculty and staff ?
One administrator acknowledged that they anticipate allowing the faculty and staff an exemption based on what is being referred to as “philosophical disagreements” against the vaccines, which will probably not be offered to students. Another university stated that they would just consider that type of exception as a medical reservation instead of a separate item.
What do you anticipate your university will be doing this spring on requiring students be vaccinated?
It is unlikely that they will mandate vaccinations especially since drug is only being offered under an “emergency use” category and the student population won’t have access to the vaccine for some time. They do sense that the university will encourage the vaccines but not require them down the road, short of any governmental direction to the contrary.
What impediments will there be to ultimately be to actually require the vaccination of all students/faculty and administration?
The current status of the vaccination application is termed “emergency use.” In ordinary circumstances, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will then move the drugs to what is termed “standard approval,” and the masses would then be eligible to take the vaccination. There is some pretty strong concern that because of the fact that the drugs haven’t gone through the normal three-year trial period that the FDA may not any time soon declare the drug for “standard approval,” which will certainly slow the acceptance of the vaccination.
How have the IHEs handled the flu vaccination previously?
What seemed to be the consensus is that many of both the private and public institutions did in fact require flu vaccinations last fall of both students and administration/faculty with very high acceptance rates. There is doubt however that this will play out the same way with the COVID-19 vaccine.
Students won’t necessarily be considered for vaccinations until late spring/early summer timeframe, so should we consider the vaccination matter at a later point in time?
Unless the student has underlying health issues, this is likely the case. We have read that the American College Heath Association (ACHA) has requested that the CDC Advisory Committee for Immunization Practices (ACIP) consider recommending students be vaccinated prior to the end of spring semester 2021. This addresses the students returning home and/or moving elsewhere and exposing other communities at large.
There is no question that the sororities will need to once again be familiar with what each IHE is doing as they develop their guidance for each chapter. As noted above, we may see differences develop between private and public IHEs, along with local conditions regarding the spread of the virus. Any discussion is premature until the vaccine becomes more readily available to the age grouping of college students.
We have also had some fraternal related questions that we would also like to address:
If a university requires the COVID-19 vaccination and requires proof of the inoculation, can the sorority and potentially the house corporation rely on that or should we also secure a proof?
We believe that you can rely on the university managing this risk accordingly.
What if the university choses to not require the vaccination, but we determine that it is in the best interests of the health and safety of our members to do so?
As a private organization, you will be at liberty to make these determinations. Will it become a condition of membership for the member to consider? It will be recommended that you also explore what exceptions you can offer, not unlike those that employers are obligated to offer, such as: 1) health reasons as the vaccine may pose a threat to the individual and 2) religious reasons. There does also appear that one other possible exception is being considered which is based on philosophical disagreements, but not necessarily encouraging you to incorporate. We are already hearing reservations on social media, which do not appear to have any scientific standing.
As with all things COVID, things will develop and evolve on this subject and we can hope that the IHEs make the calls that will help our clients better manage this exposure. As there are new developments, we will provide you with updates accordingly. We are also working with Michelle Anderson of isher & Phillips on some possible “templates” that may be used on this subject so look for additional information.
We have received several questions from our clients regarding coverage for an individual on staff serving as in-house counsel. I have approached this question from two different angles:
- Individual serving as an employee
- Individual serving as an independent contractor
The first issue to resolve is whether either status of “individual” is covered by the insurance policy. To that end, the following statements describe how individuals are covered under the General Liability, Umbrella and Excess Umbrella policies:
- Employees are covered, but only for acts within the scope of their employment by you or while performing duties related to the conduct of your business.
- Volunteers are covered, but if they are compensated in some way they do not qualify as insureds.
- Coverage applies to a “leased worker,” which is defined as a person leased to you by a labor leasing firm under an agreement.
- Coverage does not apply to an independent contractor.
Secondly, there is no exclusion for professional services under the Bodily Injury, Property Damage and Personal Injury provisions of the policies. Thus, the current policies would provide coverage for liability allegations if the individual is an employee or leased worker of your organization.
We have to look separately at the Directors and Officers and Employment Practices Liability policies. These policies contain the following provisions:
- Employees are defined as insureds under the policy.
- There is no exclusion for professional services in the coverage language.
We are confident that any employee while acting within the scope of his/her duties would be covered under all of the insurance policies that are secured by the organization. Should the status of the individual be something other than an employee, that situation is less conclusive. Should you have further questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to contact us.
We fairly regularly receive questions from members and alumnae regarding the use of individual’s personal homes for chapter events. From a risk management standpoint, we have a few different opinions based on the type of event being held. However, regardless of the type of event being held (whether it be a philanthropic fundraising event, an alumnae chapter meeting, or a recruitment event), the important thing to remember is that the homeowner would be responsible for any bodily injury or property damage that might occur from the actions or inactions of an attendee at the function. The homeowner, by hosting the event in their home, takes responsibility for any injury or damage that occurs during the event. Presumably, their homeowner’s policy would serve as the appropriate way to handle the incident.
We highly recommend that the event organizers advise the homeowner of this information prior to the event, so the proper expectations have been set beforehand. Obviously, this might convince some volunteers to rescind the use of their home, but this alternative is far better than having them upset when we decline a claim that developed out of their event in their home.
If the homeowner would not wish to be exposed in this liability but still would like to hold the event in their home, we encourage them to draft a contract between the homeowner and the chapter, in which the organization agrees to add this homeowner on as an additional insured and, therefore, receive coverage under the national liability policy. This type of arrangement must be approved by the Fraternity/Sorority Headquarters.
If a function is planned at an individual’s home that rises to the level of a significant event with many attendees, such as a fundraiser, we would highly recommend that there be a specific contract in place between the group and the owner of the home listing the terms and responsibilities of each party to the contract, such as provisions that clarify which party is responsible for any bodily injury or property damage that comes from the event. If you are contemplating this type of event, please contact us as early in the planning process as possible, so that we can address the necessary insurance verbiage and requirements upfront. If we deem that the exposure is outside of the normal level of risk, the insurance company may require some additional premium.
The other potential exposure that must be properly addressed is the matter of catering and the serving of alcohol at these events. In these cases, both the organization and the homeowner would need to take the appropriate measures to ensure that both the caterer and who ever serves the alcohol has their own insurance coverage in place to cover their actions.
Should you have any questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to contact us.
ChubbWorks (www.chubbworks.com) is a critical component of Chubb’s Employment Practices Liability Loss Prevention Program. This free Web site, created specifically for Chubb employment practices liability customers, is an on-line resource for companies seeking assistance with employment issues. ChubbWorks offers self-registration, web-based training modules, model employment policies, procedures, and forms, a checklist database, as well as access to an extensive library of employment articles and valuable publications.
Follow the following easy steps to enroll and to get the most of the training features:
- Choosing a site administrator: The site administrator is the person who oversees ChubbWorks for your organization and is the first person to register onto the site. He/She has access to the training records for his/her organization and is often someone who works with personnel, personnel legal matters, and/or training matters. The original site administrator may add other site administrators later if there is a need to share this duty.
- Completing registration: The Site Administrator should initiate enrollment to ChubbWorks by visiting www.chubbworks.com. Within the log-in box click on REGISTER. This will prompt you to enter a password, which is your Chubb EPL policy number. Refer to your Insurance Overview or contact your Client Executive for your EPL policy number. Complete the information fields requested and create a personal password for future use.
- Recruiting additional users: Once logged in, the Site Administrator may extend an invitation to employees and volunteers within the organization to enroll in ChubbWorks by opening the Control Panel. Within the Control Panel click on Recruit New Users. Enter the email addresses of each invitee separated by commas. These employees will receive an invitation via email asking them to enroll in ChubbWorks. They can then self-register with the password received within the email, and later create their own personal username and password for future use.
- Using web-based training for supervisory personnel: Once an employee registers for ChubbWorks they are automatically assigned web-based training modules which are due within 30 days. If the Site Administrator wishes to adjust these training dates they may do so within the training section of the Control Panel. All users will receive automatic email reminders regarding the training due including due date.
- Accessing and completing training: Employees can log into ChubbWorks at any time by using their personal username and password. Once logged on, user clicks on Training to bring up a list of training due. He/She then selects the lesson to be taken. Each training module has complete instructions and a link to contact the Trainer if the trainee has any questions. In order to complete a lesson, a trainee must achieve a perfect score on that lesson’s quiz. A trainee is given several chances to change incorrect answers before he/she is directed back to the section of the lesson where the answers can be found. There is no limit on the number of times a trainee can review the lesson; the goal is to understand all the major points before moving on to the next lesson.
- Training records: The Site Administrator(s) has exclusive access to training usage reports, including how many lessons employees have completed. The Site Administrator accesses this information under the Control Panel. Select Reports for an overall view. To check the training records of an individual, go to Users under the Control Panel. Choose Add/Edit Approved Users and click Edit next to the name of the employee and then View Training History. Reports can be exported to Microsoft Excel and printed and/or saved to your hard drive.
Part One: 20 minutes. Assessing your response readiness in the event of a natural or man-made disaster and having a plan to close gaps can help provide quick recovery and business continuity. Part 1 of 3.
Part Two: 11 minutes. Conduct a business impact analysis and develop recovery plans around critical business functions to minimize business interruption. Part 2 of 3.
Part Three: 11 minutes. Business continuity planning includes prevention and mitigation controls, including gap analysis, adding controls and testing your plan for improvements. Part 3 of 3.
A resource developed for universities from Travelers, the insurance company for MJ Sorority clients, much of which is applicable to sororities as well.
A resource from Travelers, the insurance company for MJ Sorority clients, with tips for communicating with the media during a crisis or emergency.
Risk management resource geared toward college administrators, but equally applicable to sorority leadership from Travelers, insurance company for MJ Sorority clients.
Non-Owned Automobile Liability is the most commonly misunderstood coverage in the Sorority Book of Business. Non-Owned Automobile Liability is designed to protect the organization for the risk of being named in a lawsuit involving an automobile. It does not protect individuals who are driving on behalf of the Sorority/Fraternity.
Non-Owned and Hired automobiles are automatically covered under the organization’s Automobile Liability policy and are defined as follows:
Hired Autos: Autos you lease, hire, rent or borrow; except autos from your employees and members (for example, vehicles you rent from Avis, Hertz, etc.). When you are renting an automobile on behalf of the organization, there is no need for you to purchase the physical damage coverage for the automobile from the rental car company. Hired Automobile Physical Damage coverage is provided subject to the policy deductibles.
Non-owned Autos: Autos you do not own, lease, hire, rent or borrow that are used in connection with your organization. This includes autos owned by your employees and members but only while used in your organization. Provides coverage for sums you legally must pay as damages because of bodily injury or property damage caused by an accident and resulting from the use of a covered auto.
It is important to note that the Hired Automobile Physical Damage coverage extends to direct damage or theft of a rented automobile and operates for the benefit of the insured, which is the fraternity/sorority. Automobile rental agreements, therefore, should always be executed in the name of the fraternity/sorority, rather than an individual’s name.
Any Named Insured using a non-owned or hired auto is an insured, except:
- The owner or anyone else from whom you hire or borrow a covered auto.
- Your employee – if the covered auto is owned by that employee or a member of his/her household.
Non-Owned Automobile Liability coverage does not provide coverage for someone who is driving their personal automobile to or from Sorority/Fraternity events. This coverage is designed only to protect the organization, not the volunteer, member, officer, etc. who is driving their own vehicle on the organization’s behalf. Any volunteers, members, officers, etc. who choose to drive their personal automobiles on behalf of the organization need to rely on their own personal automobile coverage in case of an accident.
Individuals who use their own vehicles to drive to/from a sorority event must look to their own automobile insurance for protection should they be involved in an automobile accident.
The exposures associated with the Non-Owned Automobile Liability coverage are particularly concerning from a risk management perspective because of the vast number of personal automobiles that are driven to and from Sorority/Fraternity events at any given time that expose the organization to a Non-Owned Automobile Liability claim.
Further exacerbating the sheer exposure issue with non-owned autos is the number of members, volunteers and third-party individuals who only carry the state minimum automobile liability limits, which are woefully inadequate for accidents involving even minor injuries. For their own protection and fiduciary stability, we recommend that all volunteers and members of your organization carry at least a combined single limit of $300,000. Higher automobile liability limits are marginally more expensive than the state minimum limits, and the higher the limit, the less likely you are to suffer long-term financially consequences to an automobile accident.
Even in situations in which the organization was not negligent in causing the accident, plaintiff attorney’s often use the “deep pocket” mentality when it comes to automobile accidents involving even minor injuries, meaning that the Sorority/Fraternity is seen as the “deep pocket” in the situation. Accordingly, in many of the examples listed below, the organization was brought into the lawsuit because they were seen as having more money and/or higher insurance limits to pay for the cost of lengthy litigation and judgment.
Over the last ten years, under the MJ Sorority Book of Business, the insurance company has paid out over $3.7M in automobile-related claims on behalf of our clients. With the potential for one accident (see examples below) to wipe out ten or more year’s worth of an organization’s Non-Owned Automobile Liability premium, the non-owned automobile exposure is quite disturbing.
Clearly the Non-Owned Automobile Liability exposure is an uncontrollable one, which is what makes it so concerning for our clients. The most important risk management tool in attempting to limit your Non-Owned Automobile Liability exposure is to encourage your members and volunteers to have a minimum combined single personal automobile liability limit of $300,000. In addition, we do not support designated driver programs that are not held in conjunction with an official sorority event (see this position paper on our website for more information). Finally, it is important that the chapter and sorority/fraternity leadership educate their members and volunteers as to how this coverage operates, so that they are aware of the exposure to their personal insurance coverage when they drive to/from any sorority/fraternity event or activity.
The following claim examples are real-life examples of how the Non-Owned/Hired Automobile Liability coverage responds when an incident occurs:
Several chapter members were driving to a regional conference together in a member’s personal automobile. The vehicle swerved off the interstate in a single-vehicle accident, and one of the chapter member occupants was killed and another chapter member occupant was severely injured. The families of the killed and injured chapter members sued the driver and the Sorority for damages. The driver of the vehicle only carried the state minimum insurance limit of $25,000, which were quickly exhausted. The organization’s insurance policy settled with both families for a total of $740,000. The sorority was brought into this lawsuit because the driver’s limits were so low and the families of both women felt that someone (i.e. the Sorority) should pay for their loss. In addition, the Sorority’s policies stated that sisters driving vehicles in “official sorority capacity” were doing so as agents of the Sorority, which further hurt the Sorority’s defense.
An officer was involved in an automobile accident in a rental car while attending a Leadership Conference. The officer failed to yield the right-of-way in traffic and struck another vehicle, injuring the two passengers in the other vehicle. The insurance company, on behalf of the organization, paid out $252,000 in settlement to the claimant and defense costs and $13,000 in property damages to the rental car company. The insurance company, on behalf of the organization, settled this claim because the officer was driving a rental car, and all cars rented for sorority purposes are covered under the insurance policy.
A chapter advisor was driving a few members to the chapter house after a philanthropic event in her personal automobile. She ran a red light and severely injured two people riding on a motorcycle. The advisor’s personal automobile insurance limit was only $100,000, which was exhausted immediately. The total cost of the claim was $2,385,000. The insurance company settled this claim on behalf of the organization because of the deep pocket theory. In addition, the insurance company was unwilling to take the claim to court and risk the jury ruling in favor of two young people with severe injuries
The one word that most aptly applies to a woman’s fraternity or sorority is the word “sisterhood,” defined loosely as collegiate women watching out for each other. It is this very value that has brought about the well-intentioned chapter programs referred to under a variety of titles, the most common being designated driver or “sober sis” programs.
Mother’s Against Drunk Driving (MADD) has encouraged better decision-making by individuals when drinking and driving. Collegiate young adults are typically less experienced drivers, and, statistically, this age group has a crash rate per mile that is four times higher than all other drivers according to the Institute for Highway Safety. As a result, we are seeing more and more interest in finding ways to keep young adults safe.
Many of our clients chapters have designated driver or “sober sis” programs, in which certain chapter members sign up to serve as designated drivers for other chapter members in hopes of providing safe transportation to and from the chapter house for those members who may be intoxicated. These types of programs are obviously very well-intentioned; however, from a risk management perspective, they surprisingly do more harm than good to the Sorority/Fraternity for some of the following reasons:
- Designated driver programs that are organized and mandated by the chapter lead participants and other observers to assume that the chapter is ensuring the safety of the driver and the passengers. In actuality, the chapter does not have the capacity or expertise to ensure the safety of the participants. By organizing these types of programs, the chapter is welcoming any claims that may arise due to the designated driver program. On the contrary, friends (chapter members or not) who agree to pick one another up after an evening of alcohol consumption are simply helping a friend; when this practice becomes a chapter activity (advertised at chapter meetings, on Facebook, etc.) is when the liability for the chapter and Sorority/Fraternity become a concern.
- Designated driver programs put the driver at undue risk for possible claims. Even the best drivers have accidents. If a chapter’s designated driver gets in an accident and people or property are damaged, the driver’s insurance will be the first to respond.
- Designated driver programs typically do not screen the driver volunteers in order to ensure that the safest possible drivers are participating in the activity. A complete screening process would include gathering the following information, at the minimum:
- The driver’s motor vehicle record, which includes information on their accident and driving history
- Proof of the driver/vehicle’s insurance (with adequate limits)
- The ability of the driver to handle the distractions associated with driving several passengers all evening
- The willingness of the driver to remain sober on her designated evenings
- The safety record of the automobiles being used by the designated drivers. A screening process for each chapter’s potential designated drivers would be difficult and timely to organize, and, even if a screening process does exist, it does not prevent all accidents.
- Frequently, the designated drivers tend to be the younger women of the chapter because they are not yet legally able to consume alcohol. To an outsider, this practice of the older members calling the younger members to pick them up from a bar or party tends to look like hazing, which puts the chapter and Sorority/Fraternity at increased liability in the event of a claim.
As a department, our position is this: we can only support designated driver programs when they are associated with an official event. In other words, from an insurance perspective, requiring various chapter members to take weekend evenings to stay sober and pick up other chapter members from the bars, parties, etc., is a no-no.
The following is a claim example that helps to give real-life substantiation for our position:
Background: The Lambda chapter of Zeta Pi Sorority had a “sober sis” program in which the chapter members would rotate the responsibility of staying sober for a few weekends a semester so that other chapter members would be guaranteed a designated driver on those evenings when they might need a safe ride home.
Scenario: Bridget Jones, Lambda Chapter Member, and several of her friends went out to the local bars for the evening. Because they had been drinking, Bridget called Lambda’s “sober sis” for the evening to come pick up her and her friends and return them safely to the chapter house. Laura Smith was the designated “sober sis” for that particular weekend, so she left for the bars to pick up Bridget and her friends soon after Bridget called. On their way home, Laura came to an intersection with a flashing red light. Believing that the intersection was a four-way intersection, Laura proceeded through the intersection after stopping. The intersection was actually only a two-way intersection with a flashing red light for one direction and a flashing yellow light for the other direction. The vehicle that was coming from the other direction did not stop because he had the flashing yellow light. Subsequently, Laura’s vehicle was struck by the vehicle coming from the opposite direction. Bridget suffered injuries to her upper body and face, none of which were life threatening.
Result: Bridget’s attorneys estimated her current medical costs at $250,000, and Bridget sued the following individuals and entities for over $800,000:
- Zeta Pi Sorority: the insurance company settled on the Sorority’s behalf with the plaintiff for $100,000
- Bob and Linda Smith, Laura’s parents: settled with the plaintiff in excess of $550,000
*The events described in this case study are based on actual events; however, the names, dates, and several other details have been changed for confidentiality purposes.