Don’t Let This Happen: Opening Day Disaster

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At Little League® International in Williamsport, Pa., and at our Regional Offices, calls and emails come in all year long about situations that are happening at one of our 7,000 local leagues. Many of these calls and emails inform us of some very positive initiatives spearheaded by our millions of volunteers. However, there are also negative situations.

“Don’t Let This Happen to Your League” details a real-world scenario, how it has impacted a league, and how you might learn from it.

The names have been omitted in the following scenario, but the situation is real.

The Situation:

A local Little League program’s Opening Day Planning Committee has organized a wide variety of fun, family-oriented activities for the players, families, and volunteers as part of its Opening Day festivities.

In a municipal park located within walking distance of the league’s field complex, a mini-carnival has been set up, complete with food vendors, a set of mechanical/carnival-type rides, and an inflatable bounce house. The mechanical/carnival rides and bounce house are staffed by parents who signed up for one-hour shifts. During the day, two separate incidents occur, one at a mechanical/carnival ride, and another inside the bounce house, where children are injured.

A young boy slipped as he was getting on one of the mechanical/carnival rides, cutting the back of his head and sustaining a concussion. Nearby in the bounce house, a young girl became tangled in the mesh netting and broke her arm. In each case, the family took the child to the emergency room. Since it was a league function, the Board of Directors submitted the injury claim through their group insurance, expecting the claims to be covered under the league’s accident policy.

The Outcome:

When the league submitted the two claims to Little League International, both were denied by the insurance carrier. The reason given for the claim denials was that the bounce house and mechanical/carnival rides were not covered by the group accident and general liability insurance for local Little Leagues even though the mini-carnival was a part of the Opening Day event. In each case, the families sued the league for medical expenses. Eventually, the league settled with the families, and the amount of the settlements came to several thousand dollars which were paid out of the local league’s funds due to specific exclusions in the insurance policies.

In the first season following the settlements, the league was crippled by the unexpected outlay of funds from their league account. Player enrollment was directly impacted by the league having to increase its participation fee by 50 percent and suspending its player scholarship program for families unable to afford to pay the participation fee. Enrollment dropped from approximately 350 participants to less than 250, and the league could not afford to enter any teams into postseason tournaments for the next two seasons.

Note to Leagues:

As you plan Opening Day events, and/or other activities that are considered local league functions, but are not game-related, contact the Risk Management Department at Little League International in South Williamsport, Pa., and ask for the Liability Insurance Division to receive information and direction regarding the scope of the insurance coverage protecting your league. Regardless of whether your league has hosted similar events in the past, it does not mean the events were ever covered under the group insurance plans for local Little League programs.