Concerns regarding older equipment
We received a phone call from a youth lacrosse club coach who was concerned about the use of 20-year-old helmets that haven’t been reconditioned or re-certified. He wanted to know if he could be liable in the event of a head injury to a player since it his responsibility to verify to the referee prior to the game that all equipment is in safe operating condition. He also wanted to know if his General Liability policy would cover any potential lawsuit.
The short answer is that league administrators and coaches are responsible for the following aspects of equipment safety:
- Long-range planning for the repair, refurbishment, and replacement of helmets. These decisions need to be made far in advance as they can take time to budget and complete.
- Confirming helmets meet current National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment (
NOCSAE) requirements, as well as the requirements of the sports governing body.
- Helmets should be inspected for defects in post season, pre season, weekly, and prior to any game or practice.
- Maintaining repairing, and conditioning equipment on a regular basis.
- Reconditioning to “like new” basis of safety equipment such as helmets should be performed by a reputable reconditioning business as opposed to an on staff trainer. NOCSAE may require re-certification.
- Replacing helmets on a periodic basis per manufacturers recommendations.
- Record keeping for documentation purposes on all of the above.
There is no doubt that many of the above outlined principles may have been violated and the coach is justified in his concerns about liability.
General Liability policies generally don’t have an exclusion for lawsuits arising from of injuries due to failure to follow proper equipment safety protocol as outlined above. Therefore, coverage is likely to exist under most policies. However, a minority of policies may have a punitive damages exclusion. Willful disregard of known safety protocol could result in punitive damages. In addition, any litigation, even if covered by General Liability insurance, results in a black eye for the program and pretrial discovery and litigation is an emotional drain on league administrators and coaches.
For a more detailed resource on Equipment Safety, see our Risk Management Program for Sports Organizations