Obstacle Course Race Insurance Questions, Answers and Insights.
Obstacle Races are awesome. Where else can you get out of your office cubical to transform into a warrior for the day, play in the mud and drink beer with your friends. I have been doing insurance since 1987 and have always gravitated to writing policies for the high risk type of exposures. Anything to do with adventure, speed and risk appeals to me.
I discuss OCR Insurance with experienced and new event organizers on almost a daily basis. One of the insurance companies I work with writes hundreds of these events and this is some info based on my experience. It is by no means an exhaustive list but it does address most of the concepts people ask about.
Events charge participants on average $15-20 for insurance. How much does insurance really cost event organizers per participant?
From what I have seen, if an event organizer is passing on the cost of insurance to the participant, that is pretty close to the actual cost of insurance and acquisition. The more aggressive the obstacles and event, the higher the insurance rate. There are many local and regional Mud Runs that pay under $4.00 per participant for insurance. These are generally 5k or less in length and do not have aggressive obstacles.
The ones that are paying $10 – $20 or more have longer races, more aggressive obstacles and may also have a claim history that drives rates up.
Insurance is clearly a cost involved in putting on a mud run or obstacle race. How do you think organizers started getting away with passing this cost directly onto participants as basically the participants’ costs?
Because people still register and pay for it. I generally see the cost getting passed on to the participants mostly on the larger national brands. Many OCR brands tout that they are the baddest, most gnarly obstacle race out there, so difficult you might even die. I think that showing the insurance separate supports just how challenging their event is going to be. The Event Organizer either pays for the insurance out of the total entry revenue or they add it on at “check out” , either way it gets paid for. Like any good business they must operate at a profit. By doing so they can continue to offer better events to the public. I think these events are still a great value.
What does OCR insurance give me as a participant that my own insurance doesn’t offer?
That depends on what kind of insurance you have. Your policy may exclude “accidents” or you may have a policy that excludes “competitive events” You may not even have health insurance, or enough coverage for your injury. OCR insurance policies should really only be used for the “unexpected” injury to a participant. More on that later.
What does OCR insurance cover?
Mainly, accidents. An event organizer has many exposures for putting on an event. They should get a general liability policy that includes coverage for the spectators as well as the participants. This protects the event organizer against law suits if someone at the event gets injured and that injured person thinks it’s the Event Organizers fault. These limits are usually from $1,000,000 to $5,000,000 for most events and up to $10,000,000 for the larger OCR Brands.
In addition to the general liability coverage there should be an “Accident Medical” policy in place that will provide limited medical coverage to the participant if they don’t have their own medical coverage. Accident Medical limits are most commonly in the $10,000 to $50,000 range and some up to $100,000.
There are many other exposures and types of coverage available for an OCR event. Here is a short list that an Event Organizer should consider.
- General Liability
- Participant Legal
- Liquor Liability
- Participant accident
- Pollution Coverage’s
- Event Cancellation
- Equipment, Property & Auto
- Excess liability
- Directors and Officers Liability
I got hurt, now what?
That is up to you, but it was me, I’d go to the First Aid Station. Get your injury checked out. They will do basic 1st aid and document your injury at the station for free. Follow the recommendation of the attending aid. They are usually EMTs, Fire Department professionals etc. They should know what they are doing, and if your injury requires more medical attention, go get it right away. If your injury was from an unsafe obstacle let them know. A lot can be done to be well prepared and avoid injuries. Mike Donoghue of Amphibious Medics does a great job outlining this in a recent post :
Events have waivers, why have insurance?
Because people will still sue even though they signed a waiver. When you enter an OCR race you should do so knowing that you might hurt yourself. If there is mud at the event, you might get some in your eye. If you try to climb over an 8 foot wall, you may not make it. You could slip, fall and hurt yourself. These are “expected” injuries. The waiver is designed to remind you that you are entering into an event where there are “expected” hazards.
If you hurt yourself you promise, (by signing the waiver) that you will not go after the Event Organizer because you slipped and fell. In fact, the wording in Waivers is such that you promise you won’t ever come after the Event Organizer for any reason what so ever, Ever! That seems fair, right? But what happens if you are climbing over that 8 foot wall and it falls apart sending you to a face plant? You didn’t “expect” that did you? Or what if that that mud in your eye is infected with some disease due to the runoff from the manure at a field where cows frequently defecate? Unexpected? Of course. This is why they have insurance.
The Event Organizers are expected to have sturdy obstacles and uninfected mud. They should test and check before they release a few thousand weekend warriors through their event. If they don’t and you get injured on something “unexpected” then you could look to their insurance policy for remedy.
I signed a waiver can I still put in a claim to the organizers insurer?
You can but most importantly the question is “should you”? An Event Organizers insurance policy should not be viewed as an open check book “free for all”. It is a contract with certain conditions that need to be met. As discussed above, if you have a minor injury and you don’t have any health insurance, you can make a claim. That insurance company will verify your story. If you have a major injury that greatly affects you, then you could put in a General Liability claim. Keep in mind that to “put in a claim” really means “to sue”, you will need to lawyer up and prove your case.
When can I use the OCR insurance benefits vs. my own?
The Accident Medical coverage is an “excess” policy so it won’t pay unless the injured person either doesn’t have any insurance or they don’t have enough insurance. Let’s say you have your own medical coverage, you run an OCR race and you break your finger falling over an obstacle. It’s not really the event organizers fault that you fell, is it? That is why you have your own insurance, for when you get sick or injured. You should take care of it yourself.
Assume now you don’t have any insurance and you break a finger falling over an obstacle. The Event Organizer’s “Accident Medical” coverage could respond to take care of your finger even though it was your fault. Kudos to the Event Promoter that takes out proper coverage and pays for your injury that you did to yourself…., that was your fault. If it is major and appears to be the Event Promoters fault then a claim could go beyond the Accident Medical and into the General Liability policy.
What kind of things will prevent a race organizer from getting insured?
Claims, claims and more claims. Insurance companies base their decisions on historical information. They are number crunchers. If an event organizer has a lot of claims that seem to be their fault, their rates will get higher and higher. A good agent will help them identify these issues through loss control and recommend the event organizer implement these changes. If they do, the claim frequency should go down. If they ignore loss control and continue to have claims, they could become “uninsurable” or the cost is so high they won’t be able to continue.
Is this trend going to cause all Obstacle Races to become a trail race without any obstacles or races with all the same kind of obstacles?
I don’t think so. It is still a pretty “young” industry by insurance standards and is trending to have about the same claims as other races. Marathons, Triathlons, 5k etc., all have injuries and claims. OCR event organizers will continue to find better and safer ways to put on their events. OCR racers continue to demand more challenging obstacles and events. They have tremendous appeal because they use different genes and themes. I think the OCR industry is helping people get out and get active that wouldn’t normally do so. Deep down we all want to be Victorious Warriors, even if it is in a pink tutu.
What kind of obstacles are hard to insure or prohibited?
Each insurance company has its own list of obstacles that they consider is a “higher hazard” Most commonly they are:
- Barbed Wire
- Electric Shock
- Ice Bath
- Fire Jumps
- High Jumps into deep water.
- Mechanical devices (ie: zip lines)
This doesn’t necessarily mean that these obstacles are hard to insure or prohibited. This just means that the event may not qualify for the “preferred” rates. The underwriters may also want to know more detailed information about the specifics of the how the obstacle is being managed.
Many of these types of obstacles are very important to the “Brand” for the event organizer and therefore, well worth the additional premium that may be charged. I have written several events with the above obstacles at reasonable rates after submitting a detailed explanation to the underwriters.
What must a race organizer ensure is in place to get insurance? Are these requirements defined by the insurance provider or by the government?
An event organizer needs to provide a safe environment for the participants. The insurance company wants to make sure the Event Organizer is operating with a level of professionalism and knowledge. His obstacles should be well designed and constructed.
There is not any government agency inspecting OCR so the application becomes a representation of the event and part of the policy. Misrepresentation on the application could cause a problem when a claim gets submitted. The agent should know what the insurance company is looking for and advise the client to implement these measures.
Currently there are not any governing bodies to regulate the OCR industry but that is changing. There is an association launching to offer sanctioning and course certification to the industry. I have been working with them and they really know what they are doing. www.obstacleusa.com These organizations should be well received. The insurance industry loves to work through an association because they will hold its members accountable to a higher standard.
How does the obstacle race industry differ from other endurance sports like marathons and triathlons from an insurance perspective?
The difference with the OCR industry from an insurance perspective is “time in market” OCR is relatively new. Insurance companies base their underwriting and rates based on actuarial data. This information is generally focused on the past 5 years. In 2009 there we only about 40,000 people running in OCR events. I heard that number was over 2,000,000 in 2013. Some Insurance companies are waiting and watching the loss data develop for a few more years.
In contrast, marathons, triathlons and regular running events have been around for a long time. The insurance companies know that out of “X” number of people running, we expect “Y” % of claims. The number cruncher dudes at the insurance company can offer rates they know will work. We have been able to assimilate some great data from a large cross section of events run in the nation. actually the majority of injuries come from the “running” portion of the OCR race and not the “obstacle” portion of the race. We have been presenting this data to several key insurance companies and expect to improve the rates and coverage’s for the 2014 season.
I manage a recurring event with thousands of participants. The reality of mass participation endurance events is sooner or later there will be fatality on the course. How does the insurance come into play?
The reality is there have been fatalities at OCR races. Some have been drowning and some have been cardiac related (heart attacks). Remember the number crunching insurance dudes? They are the ones that set the rates for policies. They look at 2 main things when setting rates. “History” and “Hazard” If the “history” is that 1,000,000 people climb over a 12 foot high obstacle and no one gets hurts then the rate should be super low. Almost nothing. However, the “hazard” is still there. The “maybe”, the potential of injury. It is just a matter of time before someone gets hurt on that obstacle and when they do,… it could be major.
What has been the largest settlement to date by an insurance company involved in an obstacle race or mud run event?
This type of information is usually proprietary. Insurance companies don’t like to give loss data out to the public. I have seen one account with a loss report that paid over $325,000 on one claim, and could go higher. I also know that they pay out a lot of small claims. I have put out a request to several of our companies for that #. If we get a response I will post again.
There is no doubt that the OCR Industry is here to stay, grow and prosper. Many newbie’s fire up an event company thinking they can make a killing. Truth is, this is a very real business with real challenges and real issues. Over the next several seasons I believe we will see a filtering process.
Only those event organizers that provide a quality product to the consumer in a safe, professional manner will continue. Good or bad, reputations will be earned.
I am available anytime to discuss. Cheers to a safe and profitable event!
David A Hemme
Executive Vice President,
K2 Insurance Marketing Inc.
I am one of many who appreciate your information posted. Is there an ‘imaginary line’ regarding OCR organizations being required to test the mud prior to ‘weekend warriors’ adventuring on their course?