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Vol. 3, Iss. 10
June 25, 2014

World Cup: Soccer And Insurance Coverage

The World Cup is in full swing. So that can mean only one thing – the entire planet coming together, with a shared purpose of cheering on their national soccer team, in a spirit of competition and good will. Well, yeah, but I was thinking more like it means that I ponder whether any coverage cases have centered around soccer. When I went in search of this answer I was expecting a low score. Obviously with the beautiful game never gaining a major toe-hold in this country – which is sad – it would make sense that there wouldn’t be too many coverage cases revolving around it. I was right. There weren’t many. The most popular cases involved coverage for automobile accidents that just so happened to take place en route to youth soccer games. As for real soccer-related cases, involving coverage disputes under general liability policies and the liability section of homeowner’s policies, which is which Coverage Opinions is all about, it was slim pickins. But I found a couple.

In Clermont Central Soccer Assoc. v. Cincinnati Insurance Company, 676 N.E.2d 1281 (Ohio Ct. Comm. Pleas. 1995) an Ohio trial court addressed coverage under the following circumstances. “Jeffrey Snider was acting as a referee for a tournament soccer match being held by plaintiff Clermont Central Soccer Association. During the course of the match, Snider attempted to avoid running into children who were running the wrong way [how cute], and fell, suffering injuries when he hit his head. As a result of the injuries sustained by Snider, Snider brought suit against plaintiff [Clermont Central Soccer Assoc.], alleging that plaintiff was negligent in sponsoring a soccer game on a field with unsafe conditions.”

Clermont Central Soccer Assoc. sought coverage under its policy issued by Cincinnati Insurance Company. Cincinnati disclaimed coverage on the basis of the following exclusion: “With respect to any operations shown in the schedule, this insurance does not apply to ‘bodily injury’ to any person while practicing for or participating in any sports or athletic contest or exhibition that you sponsor.”

The court held that the exclusion did not apply on the basis that a referee is not clearly excluded under the athletic participants clause. Calling the language contained in the exclusion “imprecise,” court explained its decision: “[T]he court finds that the athletic participants clause is ambiguous at best. Exclusions are to be interpreted in light of their limiting titles. The title ‘Athletic or Sports Participants’ used by CIC is ambiguous, inasmuch as ‘participant’ is susceptible of more than one meaning. One could reasonably believe that the term ‘participant’ is synonymous with the term ‘player’ or one could believe that the term ‘participant’ applies to anyone involved in any way with the sporting event.”

In Process Systems International, Inc. v. Continental Casualty Company, 678 N.E.2d 866 (Mass. Ct. App. 1997) a Massachusetts Appeals Court addressed coverage under the following circumstances. Process Systems was in the business of producing cryogenic tanks and heat exchangers. Despite this being its business, it manufactured goal posts to donate to the Timberlane Soccer League, which were installed in a Plaistow, New Hampshire school playing field. A child died from injuries sustained when one of the goal posts fell on him. A New Hampshire jury awarded damages of $925,000 against Process Systems, the league and the local school district.

Process Systems sought coverage under a commercial general liability and commercial umbrella policy issued by Continental. Continental asserted that no coverage was owed on account of an exclusion for bodily injury which is included within the Completed Operations Hazard or the Products Hazard.

Process Systems argued that the goal posts should not be considered its product because it did not trade or deal in goal posts. The court rejected this argument, noting that “it has been held that even a brief excursion into the stream of commerce will cause one to be classified as a manufacturer, seller, handler or distributor of goods or products regardless of how foreign this occasional venture may be to his normal activities.” (citation omitted). Further, the court stated that “[n]othing in the wording of the products hazard exclusion suggests that a product must be one within the regular course of business of an insured.” The court also rejected Process Systems’s argument that the goal posts should not be considered its product because they were donated and not sold.

The Massachusetts appeals court concluded that no coverage was owed to Process Systems on the basis that the underlying claim involved bodily injury included within the Completed Operations Hazard or the Products Hazard exclusion.

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