By MATTHEW BRODSKY, senior editor/Web editor of Risk & Insurance®
The Phillie Phanatic has a tongue like an oversized party noisemaker and a green, furry belly that would make a sumo wrestler blush.
And he's not afraid to use them ... to entertain the millions of fans who attend Philadelphia Phillies baseball games. He pokes his tongue and snout into fans' faces, climbs into even the nose-bleed seats to give hi-fives, and is particularly adept at twirling his enormous girth to rhythms broadcast over the stadium loudspeakers or perhaps those that are only in his big green head.
The Phanatic, who supposedly hails from the Galapagos, is perhaps one of the most recognizable and adored team mascots in all of professional sports.
Adored by everyone except perhaps Grace Crass, who has filed a lawsuit seeking more than $50,000 for damages that she claims occurred when the Phanatic brushed past her in the stands at a Reading Phillies game. Crass accuses the Phanatic of aggravating arthritis in her knees, leading to her getting knee replacement surgery.
Though the Phillies and their nearly beloved mascot decline to comment on pending litigation, according to news reports in the local media, they did engage in a debate on whether the Phanatic is the mascot who has the most lawsuits under his large belt in Major League Baseball. (The news reports found at least three suits in the past decade, whereas the team reports two instances.)
In any case there's a pretty good chance that the Phils are covered for this particular instance, and for whatever else the Phanatic might get himself involved in.
A typical general liability policy for a sports team would protect the team and the Phanatic from bodily injury and property damage suits, according to Marc Blumencranz at insurance brokerage BWD Group. He said that GL policy would respond should any employee, green and furry or not, be involved in such an episode.
Some of these mascot episodes are not just any episode though. Robert Murphy, managing director at the Marsh Philadelphia office, has seen mascot-related litigation reach into the six or seven figures. And not only is severity up, frequency is up too, he suggested.
It's a matter of mascots being used more and more--not just with pro sports teams but with collegiate and minor league teams and even corporate and entertainment facilities.
"Believe me, it's not just related to the Phanatic," Murphy said.
It's to the point, Murphy said, that underwriters are asking questions about mascots when teams are shopping for their GL insurance. How will you use your mascot? How do you train him? Will the mascot do third-party promotional events or fund-raising events in the community?
Some professional franchises are also looking to place separate GL and excess liability coverage for their mascots because they don't want to expose their master insurance program to these types of claims, Murphy added.
Teams might try to minimize their liability by designating the mascot an independent contractor (though they'd still have vicarious liability, according to Murphy). But it really comes down to sound risk management practice, like knowing what controls are in place for mascots, keeping track of what outside events you're sending your mascot to, what sort of interaction he'll have there and what's been done to minimize risk with third-party events through contractual risk management.
July 13, 2010
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