We are finding an increasing number of chapters using event planning companies/individuals to organize their social and philanthropic functions. While we do understand that planning for large events is often complicated and time-consuming, we are finding that many of the event planners that we have dealt with are not taking the time to review the contracts with the venues, often leaving our clients obligated to much more expansive and concerning liability and negligence verbiage than we are comfortable with in these contracts. In addition, because the event planner/s does not know your organization’s specific policies, we are finding that chapters that outsource their events to event planner/s are often not abiding by their fraternity’s or sorority’s policies regarding event planning.
Therefore, we are often finding that the chapters that engage the use of event planners believe that the event planner is handling all of the details of the event, when in fact, the event planners are not. When we are finally made aware of the situation (most often when a Certificate of Insurance is requested), it is often very late in the planning process, which makes it difficult to modify the contract or plan a different event, depending on the severity of the contract language.
If your chapters are using event planners, we would encourage you to make sure the event planners are aware of your organization’s event planning policies, as well as communicating to your chapter officers that they still need to verify that they are meeting your organization’s risk management policies even when they engage the use of an event planner. In addition, we recommend that when Certificates of Insurance are requested, that you provide both the contract from the event planner and the venue to us at MJ Sorority.
An Event Planner signs a contract on your behalf with additional insured language, which obligated the Sorority to extend coverage to the hotel holding the event. The hotel used glass bottles to serve drinks, some of which were broken on and around the dance floor. A chapter member’s guest sliced his foot open on the glass and severed a tendon in his foot. Because the contract obligated the Sorority to add the hotel onto their policy as an additional insured, the Sorority’s insurance policy was triggered even though the hotel’s employee broke the glass that caused the injury.
In 2007, Virginia Tech brought national focus on the need for campuses to set strategies to prevent and rapidly address mass violence. Since that time, there has unfortunately been several other incidents where gun violence occurred on college campuses.
This national scourge of gun violence has fueled extensive debate by state legislators about the appropriate course of policy action to mitigate the public safety threat that active shooters pose to the campus communities. Much of this debate has centered on the issue of allowing firearms on the college campuses, which up until most recently have been considered no guns zones!
Currently, there are nine states that allow concealed carry permit holders to bring guns on to college and university campuses. These states are Arkansas, Idaho, Mississippi, Texas, Utah, Wisconsin, Colorado, and Oregon. In contrast, twenty states have effectively banned firearms on campuses. This legislation, however, does not reflect the substantial change in direction of the state legislature’s advocacy taking place currently.
Women’s fraternities and sororities have long prohibited the presence of concealed carry hand guns on their property. This prohibition is not unlike other prohibitions that the house corporation property owners are at liberty to set as a private organization, such as no smoking, no candles, no halogen lights, no alcohol, etc.
We maintain that any legislation being considered is addressing specifically colleges and universities obligations only. We recently saw this play out in Texas with their recent concealed carry legislation, which specifically excludes private property such as fraternities and sororities.
The only exception, of course, would be if your chapter house is owned by the university and, in that case, you would be subject to the same housing requirements as if the university occupied the property. Therefore, as a private property owner of a sorority chapter house, you are in your rights to deny the presence of any concealed carry weapon by any member, employee or guest to your chapter house.
In order to make this clear to all, we recommend at a minimum the following risk management advice:
- Incorporate this prohibition of concealed carry firearms in your housing agreements
- Incorporate into other agreements covering non-resident members of the same prohibition
- Post on your chapter/house corporation website the prohibition
- Post signs at all entrances in English and Spanish to your building alerting visitors and guest to the prohibition
- Incorporate into your employee handbook of thus prohibition
- Incorporate both your physical building and to also include any automobiles in your owned parking lots
This is an evolving area of legislation, so it is important that you monitor any specific state legislative action to the contrary. We clearly have the university and college communities as allies as they too are very opposed to this requirement because they view it also as increasing a risk of further violence on their communities.
Should you have any additional question on this subject, feel free to contact your Client Executive at MJ Sorority Division.
Forty-two states and the District of Columbia have decriminalized marijuana or approved marijuana use for medical purposes, which obviously poses problems for women’s fraternity and sorority House Corporations and chapters regarding the use of a federally-banned substance on chapter property. From an insurance standpoint, we recommend that your housing and membership agreements require compliance with all state and federal laws.
Fraternal Law addressed medical marijuana in their September 2009 issue. In the article, Timothy Burke sited several recent court cases that would support our recommendation above:
The California Supreme Court, just a year ago, upheld the right of an employer to terminate an employee for violating the company’s anti-drug policy when the employee tested positive for the use of marijuana. The employee argued that he was allowed to use marijuana because he had approval to use marijuana for medicinal purposes in California…the [California] Supreme Court, however, readily recognized that ‘no state law could completely legalize marijuana for medical purposes because the drug remains illegal under federal law.’Fraternal Law
Since that time, the courts have continually upheld the rights of employers over their anti-drug policies. The Chronicle of Higher Education addressed the use of medical marijuana on college campuses. According to the Chronicle article, “medical marijuana users at Humboldt State, Fort Lewis and other colleges are advised to live off campus and leave their medicine at home.” At a panel session during the National Conference on Law and Higher Education, “speakers on the panel here pointed out that the ‘federal trump card’ gives universities legal cover to ban marijuana use without fear of challenge under the Americans With Disabilities Act or similar state laws.” Colleges in Colorado, for example, which has approved marijuana even for recreational use, have the right to define what conduct is expected and permissible within the respective communities and campuses, on or off campus. The same is true for women’s fraternities and sororities.
Women’s fraternities and sororities have the same right and ability to require more prohibitive rules on their property than are required in non-sorority-owned housing. Just as women’s fraternities and sororities ban alcohol on their properties, so too can they ban the use of illegal substances. Experts agree that it is important for women’s fraternities and sororities to communicate well in regards to behavioral expectations with their members and volunteers upfront.
We are seeing an increase in an exposure that is not as we had previously presented to the insurance company regarding the type of the individuals who are serving as House Directors. The conventional understanding has been that the individual is a single female performing this function of overseer of the property on behalf of the house corporation and the chapter.
We are now uncovering an environment which is quite contrary to this scenario. We have seen examples of the following:
- Single Female with a child
- Husband and Wife Couple
- Single Male
- Husband and Wife Couple, expecting a child
The role of the House Director is to be the one individual who can be responsible for the management of the chapter house which includes, but is not limited to, the safety and security of the members and the physical property. This is a 24-hour job and this individual plays a substantial role in minimizing the exposure in the liability and property risks. This is indeed a big job that needs the time and attention given to it that only a single person can do. Having a husband or worse yet, a child on the property is, in our opinion a huge distraction, just on the issue of work performance alone, let alone the increased liability exposure.
The liability exposure is severe for the following reasons based on the type of exposure:
- Security issues with 18-21 year old women. A male house director, presumably, would have constrained use of the facility just as any other male.
- Potential for this individual to be considered an “employee” of the chapter or house corporation, and be eligible for what is 24 hour Worker’s Compensation coverage.
- Potential for the fraternity or sorority’s general liability policy to be responsible for any injury while on the premises. Unlike the volunteers and members of the fraternity/sorority, they can not recover both the medical payments and the bodily injury benefits. This becomes a huge issue for us because, in essence, we are taking a general liability policy which has been priced accordingly and turning it into a “health insurance” policy for the individual. The rate increases of health insurance coverage over the last five-six years could also become what we see in the General Liability area.
- Potential exists that he could be construed as an “agent” (both as an employee and/or as a volunteer) of the fraternity/sorority and your policy would have to defend his actions.
- Chapter property does not contemplate infants/children and all those associated concerns about safety of the child.
- Potential for the fraternity/sorority policy to become a health insurance policy for the child should he/she be injured while on the property. We have had such a claim already from one of our clients who had a four-year-old in residence.
- Injuries to children are especially detrimental to a client’s loss ratio because the insurance company keeps claims involving children under eighteen open until the child reaches the age of maturation (typically either 18 or 21) for the state in which the injury took place.
The insurance underwriters do not support the presence of single male House Directors. In the case of a married House Director whose husband wants to live in the chapter house, we ask that you use the sample employment contracts on our website. We have one in which the House Corporation/Chapter is hiring both the husband and wife, and one in which the House Corporation/Chapter is only hiring the woman. Employing a House Director’s husband has not only far-reaching liability ramifications and workers’ compensation concerns, but it is also a matter of tax implications.
In addition, we cannot allow any children of House Parents/House Directors to live in the facility. We ask that no exceptions be made for this exposure.
We welcome your comments and hope to continue to keep our policy “contemporary” to the collegiate landscape as it changes. The above guidelines will be further refined after we have had an opportunity to gain some additional insight from our clients on this important matter.
The insurance company underwriters have accepted the sorority class of business based upon the exposures that are normally present for housing, such as member-only female tenants, no alcohol allowed on the premises and having a House Director live on the property. The coverages provided under your organization’s national insurance program have been designed and priced based upon these guidelines.
The House Corporation may desire, on occasion, to rent out the chapter property to a third party. There are certain parameters that must be in place in order for the insurance carrier to consider supporting the arrangement, which include the following:
- Lessee is a single sex organization, not individual tenants.
- Lessee must carry $2,000,000 General Liability coverage.
- Lessee must include the House Corporation and the Fraternity as primary Additional Insureds.
- Lessee must provide a Certificate of Insurance annually to the Landlord and MJ Insurance.
- An adult supervisor needs to live on the premises.
- Alcohol is prohibited on the premises.
- Candles are prohibited on the premises.
- Lessee must complete the MJ Self Inspection Property Checklist each semester.
Please contact us to discuss any potential rental arrangement you may be considering, and we can determine if the arrangement is acceptable from an insurance and risk management standpoint. We will talk through the plans, discuss the exposures involved and help you determine the best course of action and discuss other risk reduction/management techniques you may want to consider.
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.
We have seen an increase in the number of requests from the collegiate chapters to participate in the concession area for an athletic event at the sports stadiums.The requests generally come about because the company managing the concessions wants the group to show evidence of insurance; thus a request to us for a Certificate of Insurance. From an underwriting standpoint, we have some concerns about this exposure and will work with each request to minimize the ultimate liability to your organization. Below are some specific guidelines:
- We will not support adding the concession management firm to your policy as an Additional Insured, if the chapter members will be serving alcohol.
- We will not support the request if the chapter members will be serving alcohol for the concession management firm.
- We will support adding the concession management firm to your policy as an Additional Insured if it meets all other qualifications.
- We will produce a Certificate of Insurance to the firm wanting to see the evidence of insurance if the event meets the above guidelines.
Fortunately we are finding that the concession management firms will work with the participating chapter and will enlist their assistance for areas other than the alcohol sales of an event.
We bring this to your attention not only to point out a trend of increased requests, but also to inform you of several recent lawsuits, which supports our underwriting position on this fundraising activity.
If the person selling the alcohol was an employee of the beverage provider, then the litigation trail and liability stops there. However, if the individual who dispersed the alcohol was involved in an organization like a sorority, then there exists a very strong probability that that organization would be brought in to the lawsuit (see here and here for examples). Hence, our fear about the ultimate liability of not only the local chapter, but also the national organization would be at risk.
We encourage you to communicate these risk management guidelines within your organization to ensure that each activity being considered is addressing the many different risk exposures.
Should you have any questions or concerns on the above information, feel free to contact your Client Executive.
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.
Here’s the scenario: a Chapter Advisor calls us and explains that several chapter members have come to her concerned about a fellow chapter member who is exhibiting signs of a severe eating disorder. The Chapter Advisor asks us what to do to avoid any allegations of infringing on the chapter member’s privacy. We receive calls similar in nature to the fictionalized scenario above at least once a week. The individual calling typically sites concerns of violating the Family Educational Rights & Privacy Act (FERPA), a federal law that protects the privacy of student education records. Although the legislation originally passed in 1974, FERPA has received increased attention more recently following the tragic events at Virginia Tech and the shootings in Arizona. There are a few key facts about FERPA that are especially important for our clients’ leaders and volunteers to keep in mind:
- FERPA applies to educational agencies and institutions that receive funding under any program administered by the U.S. Department of Education. Women’s fraternities and sororities are not subject to FERPA guidelines.
- FERPA generally prohibits the improper disclosure of personally identifiable information derived from education records (which are defined as those records that contain information directly related to a student and which are maintained by an educational agency or institution). However, information that an individual observes or hears about orally from others is not protected under FERPA.
- FERPA does not prohibit institutions from disclosing information under the following circumstances:
- If the student is under 21, the institution may inform the students’ parents of any violations of its alcohol or drug policies.
- If the institution believes that there is a health or safety emergency involving the student, the institution may contact the student’s parents and seek their assistance, regardless of the student’s age.
- If either parent claims the student as a federal tax dependent, the institution may disclose information it has regarding the student to both parents, regardless of the student’s age and whether there is an emergency.
We encourage you to familiarize yourself with your organization’s risk management policies and procedures when a member’s health is at risk. The leaders of your organizations have gone to great lengths to equip you with the resources and tools to know how to handle these types of situations. In emergency situations, we also encourage you to contact the appropriate University officials. Most campuses have trained individuals on staff that deal with emergency situations day-in and day-out.
In 1996, NPC adopted a unanimous resolution regarding peer monitoring. The resolution states that member groups should refrain from serving as Panhellenic and Greek enforcement officials at social events and that the NPC expects its member groups to resist pressure from university personnel for their members to serve as social event peer monitors.
The resolution was adopted due to concerns that the monitors were not trained and that monitoring imposes a duty of enforcement that cannot be met, which creates a duty where heretofore none existed, therefore imposing negligence on participating groups and the fact that the universities are not indemnifying the monitors for his liability. There was also some concern about the possibility of one group’s member retaliating against another group for some prior allegation of rule breaking. NPC’s legal counsel and insurance carrier have advised against peer monitoring.
Since the adoption of this resolution, many universities have attempted to persuade NPC groups to participate in peer monitoring or party checking. Recently, a question was posted on the AFA listserve regarding peer monitoring and party checking. Interestingly enough, Mitch Crane, an attorney and member of Sigma Phi Epsilon Fraternity, posted the following response, which goes hand-in-hand with NPC’s resolution:
In most cases, monitors were lax under fear that their own chapters would be sanctioned in return if they enforced the rules. On two cases, men were threatened physically. There certainly are some institutions where this type of monitoring appears to be effective – but it takes mature and brave men and women to do it.
Another issue I have raised is the fact that in almost all cases the party monitors are not covered by liability insurance – this puts liability on the individuals and/or the uninsured councils. In the few cases where the councils and the party monitors are on the institutional liability policy, there is a great exposure to suit if the monitors do not do their jobs properly or if they come and go and an incident occurs later in the evening.
Purely from the point of view of enforcing policy and also protecting oneself from suit, any monitoring of parties should be by the campus police or by another law enforcement agency and not by undergraduates of fraternity and sorority advisors.
We certainly support an organization’s responsibility to hold their own members accountable for appropriate behavior. To that point, we are in complete agreement that monitoring of social activities outside of one’s own organization should be done by an insured third-party. You should continue to decline any university request for participation in peer monitoring or party checking activities.
What has emerged since that time is a “modification” of the actions expected under a peer monitoring system. This comes in the recognition of the flaws of the prior system and an acknowledgement that a modified system, now being labeled “peer observing” could be appropriate within the Greek community. In several recent situations, university professionals were not looking for this to be a group to group enforcement practice, but simply an expectation that each group is responsible for its own self-governance or its own monitoring of the activities.
In that the term “Peer Monitoring” has taken on several different meanings, it may be wise to create a new term which draws from the goal of this practice, which we believe to be that each group is accountable for the actions of its members.
As such, we are inclined to consider this practice differently and would be supportive of a “refreshed” look at the practice and the potential for embracing a new policy on how to achieve the accountability that is being sought of the member groups.
As conditions change, it is important to take another look at how exposures are evolving and the “reform” initiative discussion should effectively accomplish this for our clients. We wanted to share the risk management and insurance perspective to assist your leadership in tackling this critical challenge.
We understand that this is a difficult issue to tackle, and we want to help you determine how best to manage this exposure. Should you have any further questions, please do not hesitate to contact us.
We are often asked about the worthiness of using liability waivers by our clients. In the past, under the advice of legal counsel, we have taken a somewhat ambivalent attitude toward encouraging our clients to have their members sign waivers or requiring that non-members participating in chapter events sign waivers as we were concerned that the waivers wouldn’t stand up in court.
However, over the past several years, there has been a shift in case law that has caused us to reconsider our position on waivers and releases. This, coupled with the dramatic increase in liability incidents and claims among our clients, has caused us to re-evaluate our position. Our research and the advice of legal counsel now indicates that participant waivers/releases may be advantageous for our clients in two ways prior even to the test of court:
- Waivers may help clients educate their members about the risks associated with various types of events; and
- Waivers may prevent a lawsuit from ever being filed because the participant has acknowledged his or her assumption of risk.
We are now encouraging our clients to utilize participant waivers (both for their own members and for events sponsored by the Fraternity/Sorority with non-member participants) for the following types of events:
- Any athletic event
- Any “risky” event (Link to risky events position paper)
- Any competition
We have developed a participant waiver/release template for our clients’ use. Please be sure to read through the waiver in its entirety and make necessary edits so that the waiver applies to your specific event. You will see examples and further information in the footnotes of the waiver/release template.
Once the appropriate waiver has been drafted by included the requested information in the template form, waivers may be distributed in paper or electronic format. If distributed and collected as hard – copies, chapters should either keep the paper copies or scan and save as an electronic file in accordance with your organization’s document retention policy. It’s important that chapters not go to all of the effort of collecting signed waivers to simply dispose of them the day after the event as claims often come much later than that.
A potentially better option is to use a web-based liability waiver platform that will help your chapters create and distribute waivers to participants and then save signed waivers in a searchable database. There are a few websites that offer this. One such company that we recommend is SmartWaiver as we believe that the waiver creation and distribution process is relatively seamless and pricing is reasonable and upfront.
As with any non-profit organizations, finding and retaining volunteers can be a difficult task. In addition, an effective organization has a path way for these great volunteers to be able to contribute and rise up the ranks of leadership. All too often however the complex question arises of “whether a volunteer can continue to serve as a local alumna for a chapter or a house corporation once they also assume a national leadership role?” There are two distinct answers to this question.
The first answer is a rejection of this dual capacity service of an alumna. The driver on this issue is a concern that the national officer may expose the national organization to liability for local entities actions, subsequently forfeiting the defense of ignorance of the local entities operation.
The second answer and the one that we think more appropriately applies to the women’s organizations is that the threat of increased liability from this dual capacity is offset by the distinct advantage that we believe does indeed come from a national officer continuing to provide leadership to the local entity be it a chapter advisory board or a local house corporation board. We see this leadership as a positive for both the national and local entities.
There is a very robust and rich hierarchy that exists with the women’s organizations and their ability to deflect any knowledge of certain activities becomes diminished.
Ideally the national officer should be freed up to focus on this important national position that she has been appointed or elected to do for her sorority. A new volunteer can be added to your ranks to fill the local volunteer position. If however this is not possible, then there should be no hesitancy to allow the dual-capacity position of your national officer.