Falling Tree Limbs and Golf Carts: Emerging Park Hazards
Trim those trees!
That’s one piece of advice from Lucas Hartford, president of Evergreen USA, which specializes in campground insurance.
Hartford said his Lewiston, Maine-based company has seen an increase in claims resulting from falling dead or dying tree limbs.
“We’ve seen it slowly creeping up over the past 10 years,” he said. “Over that time, we’ve seen a big increase in the number of tree limbs that have caused damage to (RVs) and, occasionally, to people.”
And while years ago campers often considered falling limbs part of nature, today they are more likely to sue if they get hurt or if their property is damaged.
K & K Insurance Group in Fort Wayne, Ind., is seeing a similar increase in falling limb claims, said Lorena Hatfield, K & K’s marketing resources manager.
Hartford and Hatfield said it is incumbent upon park operators to keep their trees properly trimmed because if there is an accident and an investigation concludes that the tree was rotting or had dead or dying branches, the park owner could be liable for damages.
Falling green limbs, on the other hand, are more likely to be considered an act of God or nature. In those cases, the camper’s own insurance should cover any damages, Hartford said.
Falling tree limbs are one of several emerging and ongoing hazards that insurers are seeing in campgrounds.
Golf Carts are Silent Hazards
Another emerging risk area involves accidents with golf carts.
Campers are increasingly bringing their own golf carts to campgrounds. Some campgrounds also make golf carts available for guest use.
But since many of these vehicles are electric, people can’t hear them coming, Hartford said, and that increases the risk. Another problem is the age of the golf cart drivers.
Some campers view golf carts as “boy toys” and allow their children to drive them. But the damage or injuries that result from golf carts can be similar to that caused by automobiles, Hartford said, adding that campgrounds often get named in lawsuits involving golf carts because they are seen as a source of “deep pockets” for such claims, regardless of who was at fault.
Park owners can reduce the chances of having golf cart-related claims by posting and enforcing strict limits governing golf cart use. Such policies should require all drivers to have drivers’ licenses. Limits should also be posted on when golf carts can be used and parks should establish methods to prove that they are enforcing golf cart rules.
“The parks that let anything go are more likely to have problems,” Hartford said.
Other areas of risk include slip and fall hazards.
“Trips and falls are always a common claim for campgrounds,” said Hatfield of K & K Insurance.
“This could include a variety of incidents, such as a camper who trips on debris from trees or natural materials or a guest who slips on a wet staircase or falls due to a hole in a poorly maintained parking area.”
The best way to guard against slip and fall claims is to ensure that your campground is properly maintained. “Set up a weekly or even daily ‘walk around’ to check the campground for any hazard that might cause an accident,” she said.
Pool Management Is Crucial
Another area of ongoing claims involves swimming pool management. “Many campgrounds have swimming areas that are not supervised by a lifeguard, putting the campground at risk if a tragedy occurs,” Hatfield said. “Be sure to follow all basic pool safety management techniques.”
This includes having posted signs indicating when lifeguards are available, having a secure fence around the pool to secure it when the pool is closed and having safety equipment available.
“Every pool should be kept immaculately clean, well-lit and have maintenance records in order and available,” Hatfield said, adding that parks that have pool maintenance records that document the park’s efforts to reduce risks are critical in the event a claim is filed.
Hartford also recommended that park operators consider developing and refining their emergency or disaster plans. He said a government website at www.Ready.gov has some good information. “It brings up ideas they may not have thought of before,” he said