Suit of Armor: Warding Off Lawsuits

Though it’s one of the most successful and well-known gyms in the nation, Freehold, NJ-based World Cup All-Stars hasn’t been immune to facing a lawsuit. To date, the program has faced two.

“You never know who is going to come back and sue you,” says co-owner Joelle Antico. “You have to run your gym like a business; this isn’t an extracurricular activity. If owners don’t have insurance, anyone can come after us personally.”

World Cup is just one of many programs facing a growing reality: cheer professionals are at risk for a wide range of lawsuits—ranging from copyright to injuries to harassment. Modern gym owners must be well-equipped to face whatever might be hurled their way, and taking the necessary measures for lawsuit prevention is key.

Cover your bases. 

It may seem obvious, but the most effective way of warding off lawsuits is to make sure all aspects of your business are up-to-date, competent and compliant. “As long as you keep your insurance current, keep your floor safe and assure that your staff is qualified and certified, that’s a big first step,” says World Cup co-owner Elaine Pascale, who has 19 years of experience.

Drawing up clear policies can also ensure that there is no gray area up for legal interpretation. National Cheer Safety Foundation CEO Kim Archie says a gym owner’s top priority should be establishing clear, written policies that cover all the bases. “Having the right procedures that cover things across the board—from bullying to abuse to sexual harassment to injuries—is crucial,” advises Kim Archie, CEO and founder of the National Cheer Safety Foundation.

Both Pascal and Archie agree—gym owners must document everything. Looking back, Pascal says she wishes that she’d been stricter about paperwork from the start. “We had kids coming in from the outside in lower-level classes, where we didn’t know the parents as well. We weren’t as vigilant with forms and documents and making sure everything was checked off,” says Pascal. “[It’s important to] take care of everything.”

Insure your future.

“As a fast-growing segment of the industry, cheer gym facilities have their own unique needs apart from squads and competitions,” explains Lorena Hatfield of K&K Insurance, one of the leaders in the sports insurance field. “Facility owners may need various types of insurance such as property, contents, workers’ compensation, auto and crime coverage.”

According to Hatfield, coverage that includes coaches, teachers, the gym owner and the gym itself is best. She suggests choosing an insurance policy that offers commercial general liability, which typically protects against liability claims for bodily injury and property damage. A number of companies cater directly to cheer gyms, such as K and K, Markel Insurance Company and Sadler Sports (which Archie calls one of the “best in the business”).

Though most companies do offer policies at various limits and price points, Hatfield says it can be risky to skimp. “Purchasing coverage on price alone can be dangerous, as there are often differences in what is offered between providers,” she shares. “It’s important to know what is excluded, as well as what is covered, before purchasing insurance.”

It’s also key to work with your provider on tailoring your policy to your program’s specific needs. “Personal and advertising injury, professional liability and medical payments for participants may also be part of an insurance program tailored for cheer squads,” adds Hatfield.

Also important is clarifying any exclusions that may be in the fine print. “In policies, there can be public exclusions, which can include negligence clauses that strip the gym of coverage. You have to get the most specific, specialized coverage,” says Tom Gowan, a Philadelphia-based law partner who focuses on personal injury cases.

Face reality.

If an incident does occur, address it immediately. “Follow up, check in, document it,” Pascale instructs. “Find out how the child is doing that night. It shows sensitivity. We don’t like seeing any one getting hurt. We really do care.”

-Nicholas McCarvel