Summer Camps: A Risk Manager’s Perspective on 3 Key Points

April 10, 2011

Joe Risser CPCU, ARM-P
Director, Risk Management
Cal Poly San Luis Obispo

Summer camps offer a wide range of activities, facilities and services all combined to provide educational, recreational and social opportunities for enjoyment and growth of campers, staff and parents. Doing so successfully involves a wide range of special skills and knowledge in addition to general business and risk management.

Managing risk can involve:
CONTROLLING RISK to prevent losses,
TRANSFERING RISK and losses to others
PAYING FOR LOSSES through insurance or other financing

Let’s keep these techniques in mind as we look at 3 Key Points of managing risks in the operations of summer camps:

  1. Abuse and/or Sexual Misconduct

In addition to the physical and/or psychological injury of campers (and staff), criminal and civil liability for the perpetrator and up the chain of supervision to the operator/owner of the camp, damage to the reputation of the camp and its owner can destroy the camp.

This is a risk that must be controlled and any loss prevented.

A. Clearly worded, written and published rules of conduct consistent with law, camping industry standard, and the owner’s policies and procedures must be established. Campers and staff must be trained, supervised and evaluated on their performance and appropriately disciplined, including expulsion from camp or terminated from employment. In addition, appropriate law enforcement authorities must be notified in specific situations — you must know and comply with these regulations. Staff should be trained to recognize signs of abuse as well as misconduct and report these to their supervisor or manager.

B. Employees and Volunteers, particularly those with potential to have contact with campers, must be thoroughly screened during the recruitment process. Contacting previous employers and seeking appropriate community, personal and school references are important. At a minimum, the application or employment agreement must contain a voluntary disclosure statement regarding conviction of a crime other than traffic infraction (if they are not driving for camp). All employees should be carefully interviewed and observed at work when contact with campers is possible.
C. American Camp Association Standard HR-4 Staff Screening includes: criminal background check for all camp staff with supervisory responsibility and discipline power over children, or who could have unsupervised contact with children. Consider documenting the reasons if you choose not to adhere to this industry standard.

For contractors and vendors, you must transfer this risk through your written agreement for their services and supervise their performance. Include your rules of conduct and require that they adhere to them. Include an indemnification to the fullest extent allowed by law of your employees, volunteers, directors, officers and the owner/operator of the camp by the contractor. Include a requirement that their general liability insurance be endorsed to include the camp as additional insured and that the policy include coverage for abuse and sexual molestation. Have the camp’s attorney and insurance broker review and approve the agreement before use.

2. Camper and Parental Awareness and Acceptance of the Risks of the camp experience as a condition of participation.

Waivers and Release Agreements abound in variety of content, form and enforcement by the courts. You want to transfer the risk of participation to the camper and the parent. The parent (and the courts) tend not to want to do so, particularly if you have not taken reasonable care in your operations or have “surprised” them with a risk not disclosed prior to the transfer. In order to be as successful at transferring the risk of loss as the courts will allow:

A. Know your activities, facilities, services and staff. Identify the risk of your overall operations and put in place the protection and safety to control risk and prevent losses that a reasonable person would expect — fix broken equipment, sterilize eating utensils, use safety equipment, etc. When your staff are instructing others and/or are ‘experts’, then the standard of care rises to what an ‘expert’ would expect of someone in that profession or at that level of skill — life guard, archery instructor, wrangler, etc. Require that campers follow the safety rules and supervise them.

B. Identify the risks of harm in writing to potential participants and their parents prior to their being accepted to attend camp [e.g. injury, death, disability, medical expenses, property damage]. Clearly state that there are unknown risks as well. Detail appropriate requirements of the participant [level of fitness and health, physical psychological, social]. Note that each person has a different capacity for participation. Have them sign acknowledging and verifying fitness to participate. Require that they have health insurance which covers the participant.

C. Have the camp’s legal counsel develop in conjunction with the insurance broker a suitable agreement in which the participant and/or parent if participant is a minor agrees:

  • They understand the legal consequences of the document
    i. They are releasing the camp from all liability
    ii. They are promising not to sue the camp
    iii. They are assuming all risk of participation (including travel to, from and during camp
  • They are participating/allowing participation in the camp
  • They are responsible for the obligations and acts of participant
  • They agree to be bound by the terms of the document
  • They have read the document and are signing it freely


3. Camp Insurance
When a risk could not be controlled or transferred and a loss could not be prevented and a camper, parent or other person want you to pay for the loss, and they sue, you’ll want to know that you have arranged to transfer the cost of investigation, lawyers, courts and any judgment you have to pay to your insurance program.

Work closely with your campus risk manager and the University’s insurance broker to structure, obtain and maintain appropriate insurance to fund camp related losses which cannot be controlled or transferred. Your campus may want to have separate primary coverage for camp operations for some exposures (general liability) and include the camp operations and staff under University insurance for others (automobile liability and workers’ comp).

A. As a minimum, consider the following insurance coverage:

  1. General Liability for injuries and/or death to persons as well as for damage or loss to property of others. Include coverage for abuse and sexual molestation, fire legal liability if you rent facilities. Occurrence limits of not less than $1,000,000 and annual Aggregate Limit of not less than $2,000,000. [more if you have a large camp, complex operations, high hazards]
  2. Professional Liability if camp provides medical or other professional services which could result in claims of negligence. Not less than $1,000,000 per occurrence (or claim) and not less than $1,000,000 annual aggregate.
  3. Directors and Officers Liability if camp has a board of directors. Not less than $1,000,000 per claim and not less than $2,000,000 annual aggregate.
  4. Automobile Liability for injuries and/or death to person as well as for damage or loss to property of others. Combined Single Limit of not less than $1,000,000 per accident. [more if you operate busses]
  5. Workers’ Compensation and Employer’s Liability State required limits and not less than $1,000,000 per injury and per disease.
  6. Property for both real and personal property that the camp owns/for betterments and improvements to a rented or leased facility. Full replacement value with no co insurance penalty.
  7. Participant Accident Insurance to pay limited medical expenses for injury either primary or secondary to a participant’s own health insurance. [consider a limit of $10,000 or $15,000 per injury, with limited dental coverage and ambulance services —the cost is modest and may mitigate or prevent claims for medical services in case of injuries — these are “no fault policies”

B. While higher deductibles will lower premiums — you will need to have cash to pay the deductibles when a claim occurs.

C. Every Contractor and Vendor providing services to the camp needs to have at least the insurance identified in # 1, 2 (as appropriate), 4 & 5.

Your efforts to control risk by preventing injuries and damages, transferring risks and losses to others by agreement or contract and by obtaining insurance in order to pay for losses and other insurable expenses that can’t be controlled or transferred will mange these 3 key points for summer camps.

Have a great time at camp this summer!

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