Leagues forced to share liability limits and assume liability that should belong to HUF
Last September, we posted “USA | Heads Up Football Imposes Onerous Contractual Requirements On Leagues” in an effort to educate our clients on how they were exposing themselves to legal risk when they signed the 2015 Heads Up Football (HUF) contract. In summary, most leagues that signed the contract were unknowingly reducing (i.e. giving up) their valuable league insurance limits by sharing them with HUF and were contractually accepting liability that should otherwise belong to HUF.
This conclusion was not just my opinion as a 30-year veteran sports insurance specialist, sports risk manager, and attorney, but was also the opinion of the experts at a major sports insurance carrier.
HUF is taking advantage of its superior negotiating strength to transfer insurance responsibility and litigation risk to the leagues that usually don’t have the luxury of staff legal counsel to review contracts on their behalf. That’s a smart move by HUF if no one notices and they can get away with it. However, it’s my job to educate my league clients so that they are informed decision makers before they give away their rights and protection.
Negotiation attempts with HUF have not been productive
During the off season, we shared our concerns and thoughts with USA Football about a more equitable HUF contract that would be fair to our insurance clients. However, the recently released 2016 Heads Up Football Youth Coach Training agreement does not provide any relief on these unfair provisions. This is very disconcerting, and leagues need to understand this risk prior to signing the 2016 contract.
What do we have against USA Heads Up Football?
Absolutely nothing. We commend them for developing the HUF program and they are one of the few vendors providing this type of training to get the head out of the tackle. We just want them to back their product and to use their own insurance limits if they are sued in conjunction with a league for negligent course content or negligent training.
Does USA Heads Up Football have a different opinion?
Yes, they have a different opinion and think that their contract is equitable. We just disagree and want to work with them to clarify some provisions. This is a highly technical contractual problem with potentially serious consequences for our clients.
Would you turn over your liability insurance limits to football helmet manufacturers and agree to accept their liability?
What if you wanted to buy new football helmets for your league and you approached the big helmet manufacturers, Riddell, Schutt, and Adams? And what if they told you that you could not buy their product unless you named them as a primary additional insured under your General Liability policy and signed an indemnification / hold harmless provision agreeing to accept their liability if you did not meet 10 of their conditions? I’m sure you would be outraged. You would probably be wondering why they did not want to be responsible for the safety of their own product and why they wanted to tap into your insurance limits and reduce your potential coverage when they already buy their own insurance. This situation is very similar to what HUF is trying to accomplish. Both are vendors of a high-risk product and/or service. If you wouldn’t accept this from the helmet manufacturers, why would you accept the same from HUF?
Are there any alternatives?
Some youth football leagues may want to explore other coach training options to get the head out of the tackle such as the 2015 Seahawks Tackling video. The Seattle Seahawks video was developed by coach Pete Carroll and delivers online training to coaches on rugby style tackling techniques. It includes drill demonstrations and actually displays techniques during live action. The 2014 video was updated for 2015 and is touted as an excellent resource for youth tackle football coaches. AYF has developed an online test that can be found on their website that goes along with the video to verify that the coach has learned the essential elements.
Coach training to remove the head from the tackle is an important part of any youth tackle football concussion/brain injury risk management program. We discussed this in our recent post, “The Truth About Concussion Risk Management In Youth Tackle Football.”