Coaches, players, volunteers increasingly targeted in sports lawsuits: expert

Sports insurance lawsuits have moved beyond targeting teams and leagues and are increasingly zeroing in on coaches, players and even volunteers, an industry expert says.

Melissa LaRocca of GameDay Insurance said plaintiffs have begun “fanning out” claims in recent years, though it remains unclear whether the legal strategy has been successful.

LaRocca’s comments come after a hotel operator filed a lawsuit against a youth hockey association in British Columbia, naming not only the Abbotsford Minor Hockey Association but 60 unidentified parents and players and a team representative.

The claim alleges that one or more of the players kicked or pushed a hotel ice machine while attending a hockey tournament in early 2016, rupturing a water line and causing more than $200,000 in damage.

None of the allegations have been proven in court and no statement of defence has been filed.

LaRocca said while more individuals are being named in sports insurance lawsuits, she hasn’t seen a spike in the number of cases being filed in court.

“How it ends, I’m not too sure. But we do see the initial notices of loss from lawyers listing all parties involved,” she said.

LaRocca said organizations and volunteers appear to have more responsibility to supervise kids than in the past.

“Nowadays, if you do anything, you’re responsible. If you’re a parent volunteer, you’re responsible for those children.”

“It’s not as simple as it used to be,” she added. “It just so happens now people are just claiming more and suing more and just wanting more. I don’t know why, or what has changed.”

LaRocca said whether a team is insured for hotel damage depends on their insurance policy.

Keegan Goodrich of BC Hockey declined to comment on the specifics of the Abbotsford association’s policy, saying the matter is before the courts, but he provided a Hockey Canada brochure explaining the basics of the organization’s insurance coverage.

The document says any team member registered or affiliated with Hockey Canada is covered, including “accommodations while billeted or at a hotel during a Hockey Canada/branch-sanctioned hockey activity.”

The brochure outlines $20 million in liability coverage, which includes property damage.

Lisa Dornan of Hockey Canada said participants are covered for “commercial general liability insurance,” which includes bodily injury, personal injury and property damage claims.

“The insurance is mandatory and is one of the benefits of membership in Hockey Canada and its members,” she said in an email.

In its lawsuit, Coastal Hospitality says it signed an agreement with the team’s coach or manager representing the Abbotsford hockey association saying the association would be responsible for any damages or losses and minors would be supervised at all times.

The claim says players were not adequately supervised and the alleged incident was not promptly reported to staff at the Squamish hotel.

Elizabeth Smith, a spokeswoman for the Hotel Association of Canada, said in an email that damage perpetrated by young players from hockey associations has not been flagged as an industry-wide issue.