The great outdoors is engrained within US national identity. There’s something about the wild expanse of the prairies, the majesty of the mountains, and the wonder of America’s great waterways that encapsulates the freedom that US citizens have always desired. As such, it’s no wonder that outdoor pursuits like hunting, fishing, ice-fishing and hiking are such popular pastimes year-round.
Venturing off into the wilderness, although exciting and romantic, is inherently risky. That’s why most people choose to enlist the services of guides and outfitters. These experienced outdoor enthusiasts can guide people through some of the most difficult terrains and remote locations. But even the most experienced guides and outfitters can run into trouble in the great outdoors – and this is where insurance and risk management really comes into play.
“There are three top risks that guides and outfitters could potentially face: drowning, slips and falls, and accidental shootings,” said Stephanie Verseman, vice president and underwriter at Blue River Underwriters, the specialty underwriting unit of Breckenridge Insurance Group. “But I would note that losses for guides and outfitters are extremely rare. That’s because guides are usually very experienced, and they have a lot of controls in place to ensure their customers understand the risks before they’re released to go on a trip.”
Some of the things guides and outfitters can do to mitigate their exposures include: holding pre-trip safety briefings; requiring clients to fill out health and fitness questionnaires to air any potential issues and share any past experience with the outdoor activity; ensuring all water-related activities are safe including providing mandatory life vests or water flotation devices; and last, but not least, requiring customers to sign a waiver.
“It’s important for guides and outfitters, and their insurance brokers or agents, to understand what types of waivers are required,” Verseman told Insurance Business. “Oftentimes, we’ll see a submission for a risk that requires a waiver, but it’s actually a hunting lease agreement, and not a true waiver. That’s not going to stand up in court if they need to defend a claim, which is really the purpose of a waiver. It’s important for brokers and agents to advise their clients to work with a lawyer to draft up a well-documented waiver. Another big issue in terms of waivers revolves around child participants. Guides and outfitters need to ensure parents and guardians sign waivers for their children as well as themselves.”
The waiver is an important legal defense mechanism. It doesn’t necessarily mean the court will vie in favor of the guide and outfitter in the case of a claim, but it certainly helps their case and shows goodwill in terms of risk mitigation. Anytime that somebody is injured on a guided trip of any sort, whether it be a hiking trip or a hunting trip, the first thing a lawyer is going to do is go after the guide and outfitter. That’s because they know the guide and outfitter’s insurance should technically cover those claims … as long as they’ve purchased appropriate coverage.
“It’s vitally important for brokers and agents to know the specific coverage forms that would apply to a guide and outfitter,” said Verseman. “In a standard commercial general liability form, there are coverage gaps and exclusions that guides and outfitters need to fill. All too often, I see submissions where a policy is expiring, the agent is shopping around for a quote, and that policy excludes hunting and fishing operations. That’s what these clients are doing; they absolutely need coverage for that. That’s quite common in our marketplace. If a carrier does not specialize or have experience in this space, they’re not able to develop coverage forms that meet all of the clients’ needs.”
Blue River Underwriters’ outdoors insurance program, headed up by Verseman, includes a unique guides and outfitters policy endorsement. According to Verseman, it covers “virtually every risk” a guide and outfitter might face, including auxiliary coverages like: food spoilage, crime, employee theft, business income, identity theft, cyber liability, and, in several states, accident and health insurance. Verseman has a planned webinar for Thursday, November 07, to share further details on this and more.
“Our guides and outfitters endorsement is unique in that we also provide coverage for our insureds’ subcontracted guides,” she added. “That’s often a significant exposure gap on other policies. If the guide and outfitter ever find themselves in a position where the season’s picking up, they’ve got a lot of trips booked, and they need to hire a subcontracted guide to help them during a peak weekend, that subcontracted guide’s work would be excluded under most policies. And if the guide was ever sued for that subcontractor’s work, they could have a very large coverage gap. At Blue River Underwriters, we include coverage for those subcontractors. We’ve really tailored our policy to the unique exposures of guides and outfitters.”