Skatepark Insurance, Getting Your Park Insured

According to the Skate Park Association of the USA (SPAUSA), there have been 800 parks built in the U.S.A. over the past seven years.

The numbers are staggering. Nevertheless, there are so many reasons for getting a skatepark in your community, and any shop that wants to keep its scene healthy should be well on its way to getting one. And getting a good design and a competent construction crew aren’t the only obstacles-a major one is insurance. For all their popularity, most skateparks don’t come without a fight. But getting the park insured isn’t as difficult as it may seem.

For all the skateparks in the U.S., there’s a suprisingly small amount of insurance companies in the country that carry the necessary liability insurance-in fact, there are barely a handful. The rationale for this is twofold, the predominant reason being that skateboarding’s demographic is so young. Commercial Insurance’s Mike Bloom says, “Any time you have minors participating in a hazardous activity, you’re going to have less and less insurance companies that want to deal with it.”

Another contributing factor is that skateboarding is still considered a hazardous activity-despite what injury statistics have shown. Skateboarding may rank fairly low on the list of reported injuries per sport, but reported injuries aren’t the only contributing factor. “As far as liability suits go, there’s been a lot of exposure,” says Bloom. “A lot of people look at the statistics of accidents, but they don’t look at liability statistics.”

When asked what he is basing these liability observations on, Bloom explains that there aren’t any hard statistics-yet. “I go by what I see. It really takes three years to be able to compile good law statistics, and we’ve been insuring skateparks now for two and a half years.” Bloom and Commercial Insurance will be assembling statistics to release as early as April 2004.

City Securities’ Pat O’Connor is one of the few people who provides insurance to skateparks. O’Connor feels that there are so few skatepark insurance carriers in the country simply due to the state of the entire insurance industry: “The insurance industry is in complete chaos. It’s primarily due to 9/11, but also it started in the fall of ’99, when interest rates and investment earnings started to fall.” According to O’Connor, this has had a trickle-down effect, causing most insurance companies to shy away from skateparks: “The insurance industry operates pure and simply off of dollars-dollars today for dollars tomorrow.”

Public Or Private?

The type and amount of insurance necessary first depends on whether the park will be public or private. Although companies like City Securities and Commercial Insurance do insure some public parks, many cities are already self-insured and put their skatepark insurance under an existing policy.

O’Connor is in favor of public parks resting under municipal insurance policies: “Frankly, it’s where they belong. Skateparks are no different than any other public facility.” As a public facility, resting under its city’s insurance, any legal action taken against the park would be like shooting yourself in the foot. “It’s a public property. If the public chooses to sue for damages, they are suing the city that collects the taxes from these very people who turn around and build these facilities to suit these people-so they’re suing themselves.”

City Securities provides insurance to hundreds of skateparks in the U.S., as well as many one-day events and temporary parks. Its policy is not to rely on a posted sign to keep skateboarders safe. O’Connor mentions that there are several things a skatepark can do to increase the safety at a skatepark, including waivers of release, supervision, fences, and lights: “You can control them so that the people have access at limited times or hours, and they can’t get out there when they’re drunk and stupid on Saturday night.”

Jason Cissell, from Louisville, Kentucky’s parks and recreation department, explains that the Louisville Extreme Park is covered under the city’s existing insurance: “The city is self-insured, so it’s under one big policy. That component (skatepark) wasn’t a big deal for us, it was just one more thing to add on.”

To Pad, Or Not To Pad?

It’s an age-old debate that has not yet reached a real resolution. A helmet will not prevent someone from falling on their head, but it may prevent a head injury from being serious and even fatal. It’s difficult to argue the value of a helmet, and that’s why Commercial Insurance, SPAUSA, and City Securities all enforce a mandatory helmet policy. But the same isn’t necessarily true for safety pads.

For years skateboarders have gone to great lengths to avoid putting on elbow and kneepads, wearing long-sleeve shirts in the middle of the summer, even fashioning makeshift gear out of socks. Anything to avoid wearing bulky and constricting pads. This evasiveness has been frowned upon for years, but unlike with helmets, there is no documentation that says pads will help protect you when falling. Bloom says most skateboarders know when padding up is necessary: “Obviously, if you’re on a vert halfpipe, you’re going to bail to your knees three-fourths of the time, so most of the time a (vert) skater will wear kneepads. But there’s nothing in writing that says that wearing any of that equipment is going to stop you from cracking or breaking an ankle or breaking your wrist.”

Commercial Insurance’s decision to not require safety pads is a result of the realization that there are some cases in which wearing pads can adversely affect your ability to fall correctly. “Yeah, it can hinder movement. If you can find safety equipment that doesn’t hinder your mobility, then use it, because any kind of safety equipment is better than not using it, but if it’s gonna hinder your movement, don’t use it,” says Bloom.

City Securities, on the other hand, is a bit more reluctant to relinquish its safety-pads requirement. “We require protective equipment, across the board,” says O’Connor. “That’s helmets, elbow pads, kneepads, and wrist guards.” Skateparks have the option to drop up to two of the three kinds of safety gear (knee, elbow, or wrist), but remains adamant about its helmet requirement. O’Connor explains, “In no way, shape, or form will we relinquish or change the requirement on the helmet. We will not let somebody kill themselves and then feel like their family has the right to sue us.”

Playing The SPAUSA Card

Another solution to keeping a skatepark alive is by using a special membership card created by the SPAUSA. Each participant can purchase a card for a short-term event, like a demo, or a yearlong policy. Purchasing the temporary card covers the participant for the hours that the event is happening. Bloom explains that the card works much the same way that Little League baseball does: “When Little League baseball goes down to the municipal baseball park, they have coverage while they are playing that event. The municipal park carries the insurance the rest of that time. So if you’re walking through the baseball field at 2:00 a.m., the baseball association that played their game there at 3:00 p.m. that afternoon isn’t responsible for your injury-the municipality is.”

The other option for participants is the annual membership. The annual pass costs 30 dollars and allows the participant to attend a Skate Park Association-sanctioned event, without having to pay an additional cost to participate.

So, if you’re trying to get your city to build you a skatepark, perhaps they can insure it under their already-existing policy-many already do. If not, there are a few companies like Commercial Insurance, City Securities, and SPAUSA that can help. Getting a skatepark insured may seem like a daunting task, but it doesn’t have to be.