How Camp Owners Can Prevent Liability and Lawsuits

The results of poor planning are not something you want to deal with as a Camp Owner — this probably means expensive lawsuits and major setbacks in the success and growth of your camp as a business. As a Camp director, you face the challenge of recognizing all the ways that your camping programs increase the risk of injury to campers and damages to your facilities.

Evolving Risk

Uncertainty in risk assessment makes it extremely difficult to understand the ever-evolving risks that change with the demands of each camping season. To provide the safest and best experience for your campers, as a Camp Owner, you need to anticipate the risks associated with your camp, and plan to minimize those risks. But, how do you even begin to figure this out? Here are a few steps to help get you started with the risk management process.

Campground next to lake.

Step 1: Risk Identification

Risk awareness and identification is the necessary first step in the risk management process. Ask yourself, “What can go wrong, and why does it matter?” The easiest way to begin to identify risks is to put yourself in the shoes of your campers, their families, and your staff. What will they be doing that carries a level of uncertainty or risk? Keep in mind the old adage, “When the cat is away, the mice will play.” Young adults and adolescents have a higher tolerance for risk-taking – especially when they are away from their parents.

It’s important to make these statements as consistent as possible. Use the format, “If [CAUSE], then [EFFECT] may occur, leading to [IMPACT].” As your camp risk management needs evolve, you’ll want a summary of potential risks that are easy to review and augment.

Plan out your risk so that it handles the tangible (e.g. buildings, automobiles, and equipment), as well as the intangible (e.g. reputation and copyrights) properties correctly. In addition, you need to look at the safety of relationships that develop between campers and staff.

Step 2: Assess Likelihood

From Step 1, you now have a preliminary list of identified risks. Now, determine how likely these risks are to happen and the impact they may have. Ask yourself, “How likely is it to happen, and what are the consequences of the event actually happening?”

Assign a likelihood (low, medium, high) to each risk, as well as a degree of impact (low, medium, high). You’ll see that risks come in many varieties – some things are very unlikely to occur, but create a high negative impact. Other risks are likely to occur, but produce a very small impact. The worst risks are ones ranked with a high likelihood and a high impact. Conversely, the risks that need less attention are those ranked with a low likelihood and a low impact.

Step 3: Plan a Contingency to Manage Risks

Once your risks are properly and clearly defined, you’ll see your plan begin to take shape. The next step in the process is proactive Risk Management, which includes making decisions that reduce, transfer, or avoid the risk altogether.

Ways to Manage Risks

Reduce: Reduce the likelihood of the risks happening in the first place. Risk Reduction includes the use of protective equipment like seat belts and personal floatation devices, as well as consultations with camp safety specialists and lawyers.

Avoid: Avoiding risk means that you take actions to prevent the risk from happening altogether. Risk avoidance involves the establishment of rules and boundaries, like the necessary presence of at least two lifeguards before the waterfront is made openly accessible, or that no camp counselor is allowed to spend one-on-one time with a camper.

Transfer: Risk transfer mechanisms consist of the use of contracts stating the obvious risk and declaring oneself to be harmless and indemnified by the families of the campers. A common approach to transferring risk is buying an insurance policy, likely general liability insurance, which is the most common for camp owners.

Accept: Know that the risk may happen and deal with the consequences if the risk occurs.

At this point, you’ll have the following information for each risk you’ve identified:

  • Risk
  • Likelihood
  • Degree of Impact
  • Consequences
  • Risk Control Strategy

Step 4: Control Risk

It’s important that you are actively reviewing your Risk Management Plan. Discuss risks at meetings and document the risks you know may occur. Create policies and procedures to keep campers and counselors safe from potential harm.

Prevention is better than a Cure

The ground-level steps that a camp owner can take as preventive measures against liability and lawsuits include:

  • Maintaining and instituting adequate supervision of campers and counselors
  • Explaining the campers and responsible parties of the potential dangers to ensure safety
  • Supplying proper instructions about the rules and technicalities of all sports that could potentially cause damage
  • Developing processes for inspecting and using proper equipment
  • Providing a physically and emotionally safe environment for everyone on camp premises

Injuries are an unfortunate reality that camp owners have to face, but they don’t have to ruin your camping operation. At The Sherr Law Group, we help camp owners identify and manage the risks inherent in owning and operating a camp. Sherr Law Group has successfully defended camps directly and through their insurance carrier on various liability claims.  You can find out more about the firm’s services for Camp Owners and Directors.

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