Playgroup Suspended for Lack of Insurance

Hi Readers — All I can say about this is that I can’t stand the way insurance issues insinuate themselves into the way we act and plan as parents, neighbors, humans. It’s fear-based, it’s trust-killing and it makes us think of everyday life as one giant lawsuit about to crush us to smithereens. – L

Dear Free-Range Kids: Have you heard of something like this?  I belong to a mom’s group, which I love.  I don’t think I would have been able to be a stay-at-home-mom without all the amazing friends I’ve made from this group.  We’ve gone on camping trips together, vacations, plus just the day-to-day stuff like meeting up at playgrounds and to play at people’s homes.

Well, apparently when you organize playdates (for lack of a better word), you’re supposed to be covered under some kind of insurance the group has that covers you in case a mom decides to sue you while you are hosting something inside your house.  I guess it’s like an umbrella insurance policy people buy through their home insurance.  For some reason, that insurance is not currently valid and they are working to correct the problem.  However the executive board (we are entirely a volunteer organization, so the executive board is made up of other moms who wanted to step up and help) has recommended that we STOP having home playdates altogether until the insurance has been reinstated.  So all these people have emailed to cancel any home-based event they were going to have, regardless of whether it involves children or not (for example a planning meeting or a mom’s night in).

Because, you know, we are CONSTANTLY suing each other right and left. Just kidding!  I’ve been with the group since 2008 and there has been exactly ZERO times anyone has sued, for anything.  But I digress.

So I signed up to have moms and their kids (well, kids and mom, dad, nanny, grandma, etc., but it’s mostly moms) over to play next week.  And it never even occurred to me to cancel my playdate until I was reading other emails from other moms how they are cancelling their home playdates, moms’ nights, etc.  And what am I to do?  The pressure is to cancel, because you know, now I am totally exposed!

But exposed to what, may I ask?  Without this umbrella insurance, there will  be anarchy?  I just wanted to invite people over who also didn’t have anything to do next Friday morning and we could hang out, drink coffee, let the kids play, it’s a lovely time.  And I wanted to do it at my house.  Basically, I’m lazy.  I want to stay at home.  But I don’t want to be by myself.  :)  So I am hoping that no one says anything to me and I’m just going to have my playdate.  And drink coffee. – An American Mom

Dear American Mom: Wishing you lots of fun and very little litigation. – L

 

41 Responses to Playgroup Suspended for Lack of Insurance

  1. Gina September 23, 2012 at 3:39 am #

    It seems to me that your homeowner’s insurance should cover it. What if you were having a birthday party? Why do you need separate insurance?

  2. Sarah in WA September 23, 2012 at 3:50 am #

    My kids’ co-op preschool requires insurance, of course, and the only sticky point with it that I’ve encountered is that you can’t have any children that aren’t enrolled in class with you (for example, the sibling of your enrolled child), even during your “work day.” The school has allowed parents to enroll siblings for a minimal fee for this reason, or even (gasp!) look the other way in a pinch. After all, there IS some trust in this school, and we’re all parents. Sometimes the sitter doesn’t work out.

    I’ve personally never heard of an informal playgroup needing insurance. (Or perhaps it’s not informal. There is a board.) If you don’t have a true facility, though, and just meet in public places or in people’s private homes, this seems a little over the top to me. As Gina said, why wouldn’t anything that might happen be covered in your homeowner’s insurance? This strikes me as the insurance company upselling something, but I’m no expert in this regard. Very strange.

    Have your playdate! It’s your house and your choice.

  3. Warren September 23, 2012 at 4:01 am #

    This is absolutely ridiculous. It’s just another way for the insurance company to make more money. You have your homeowners insurance, which covers you for nothing. You need special coverage for flood, tornado, storm damage, acts of vandalism, and now kids playing.

    Watch you auto insurance, they might pull the same crap. You need special coverage for transporting people, to and from organized events. Special health coverage, because of the higher risk of acting as a group. And so on, and so on.

    Between insurance companies and the lawyers, parents and kids will have all their rights, and privelages taken away from them in short order.

    What about getting everyone to sign waivers, releasing all others of responsibility? Sucks that we even have to think this way, to make some suits happy in a boardroom.

  4. Krolik September 23, 2012 at 4:44 am #

    Lenore, this is not directly related to the topic but I was wondering if this is something you’d be willing to publicize. For many years, kids at our small elementary school in the town of Garrett Park, MD, have celebrated graduation from 5th grade by holding a pool party at the beloved town pool. Several other schools in the county have similar traditions. Starting this year, we were told by the Montgomery County school board, pool parties are no longer allowed “for insurance reasons”. There have been no documented cases of anyone drowning or otherwise being injured at a school- or PTA-sponsored pool party in our county that I was able to find.

  5. Donald September 23, 2012 at 5:38 am #

    This is off the topic but not really. The hysteria is the same.

    We have all heard stories on how a thief can break into your house to steal your TV only to slip, break their leg and sue you instead. It may have happened once, the facts twisted and sensationalized (to sell more newspapers or increase ratings. After all, that’s more important)

    The same stories get played over and over just like child abductions so we think it happens all the time.

    Children aren’t the only ones losing freedom from hysteria

  6. Donald September 23, 2012 at 6:00 am #

    Lenore

    Your blog is helpful at turning around the parenting hysteria. It’s an excellent resource for facts and statistics to put the worst first thinking at bay.

    We need another blog that is an excellent resource for facts and statistics to put the litigation hysteria at bay.

    You know a lot of people. Will you pass this idea around? There are plenty of lawyers that are discussed at the legal industry and they are excellent investigators as are you.

    I admire your courage to stand up after being branded the worlds worst mom. I think if we look around, we can find a lawyer that also has courage.

    Perhaps there already is such a website. If you find one and give us the link, many of your fans will visit that site as well.

  7. Donald September 23, 2012 at 6:15 am #

    ……..What about getting everyone to sign waivers, releasing all others of responsibility? Sucks that we even have to think this way, to make some suits happy in a boardroom……

    Wish it was that easy. I don’t know why it isn’t.

    However that’s what my cycling group does. When you RSVP on the website for a ride, you must type ‘YES’ to the waiver and state that you’re healthy. You must do this for every event.

    I hear that there are loopholes to get around this so that you can still sue. However I wonder how true it is just like the thief that sues his victim for personal injury.

  8. NicoleK September 23, 2012 at 10:54 am #

    I feel like I keep reading these emails about super-organized mom’s groups… executive board? Volunteer organization???!!!

    For goodness sake, just email a few people and invite them over informally. You’re certainly allowed to have friends and parties.

  9. BL September 23, 2012 at 11:08 am #

    Sigh.

    (insert obligatory quote from Shakespeare)

  10. Matt September 23, 2012 at 12:30 pm #

    I’m kind of surprised the insurance companies haven’t capitalized more on this culture of fear of everything. You’d think some corporate suit would see a goldmine of opportunity here.

  11. Yan Seiner September 23, 2012 at 12:53 pm #

    @NicoleK: Same here. Why do you need an executive board to hang out wth friends? Does everything need to be managed, organized, scheduled?

    I “organized” an event last weekend; no board, no schedule, no structure, no plan, just put the word out, people showed up and had a great time.

    The one comment I got over and over was that it was great to have something so informal, with no fees, no plan, just time to hang out and do your own thing.

    Why does everything get taken over by the hyperogranized? What happened to just hanging out and slacking off?

  12. Amy September 23, 2012 at 12:59 pm #

    I heard about these umbrella policies for the first time last month when our homeowner’s insurance came up for renewal. The reason I was given was that my children might text something to someone someday (they’re currently 7, 5, and 1) that might result in a lawsuit.

    Um, what?

    I think it’s a new product that the insurance people are being pushed to sell.

    I organized a very successful series of playdates at a local park via Facebook. I just invited everyone I know and waited to see who showed up. The kids had a blast. I think I had 25 kids at one, with their assorted parents. We put the biggest kid “in charge” and the moms hung out in the shelter talking. :)

  13. mandy September 23, 2012 at 1:14 pm #

    I’ve been a part of several playgroups over the past 10 years, and never had insurance. I would think twice about hanging out with those moms.

  14. Meagan September 23, 2012 at 1:51 pm #

    Several years ago, a chapter of Moms Club International existed in my town. I joined the group and we all had to sign a waiver when we joined. That seemed to cover anything that might happen, although nothing did.

    That group didn’t last long because of the crazy requirements (a HUGE binder of rules was given to board members).

    I’m in an informal and much happier, healthier moms group now. When a kid fell at a playground, the mom didn’t even think of suing anyone because her son was being a kid.

  15. Emily September 23, 2012 at 2:37 pm #

    Wow, that’s completely nuts. If informal, home-based playgroups require insurance, where do you draw the line? A previous poster mentioned birthday parties, but what about informal play dates? What about spontaneous kid-organized gatherings, such as the road hockey games that crop up in Canadian cul-de-sacs around the time the snow melts, or at least, they did in my youth? When did we become so litigious as a society?

    Anyway, I’m going to tell a story, that I’ve probably told before, but it fits in here. On my brother’s and my second day at a new school, when I’d just started grade five, and he’d just started grade two, another kid pushed him off the monkey bars at recess, and the fall caused him to break his foot. The vice-principal had to pull me out of gym class to tell me (because I was responsible for walking my brother home), and he had to call my dad to get out of work, to take my brother to the hospital. My mom couldn’t be contacted, because she was in her second year of law school at the time, an hour or two out of town (she commuted), and didn’t have a cell phone. Now, my dad, who’s also a lawyer, could have very well sued the other kid’s parents for inflicting a broken bone on my brother, but he didn’t. Instead, he just did the common-sense thing, and made sure my brother got medical attention (and probably ice cream or something to make up for the trauma), and then a few weeks later, the cast came off, and all was well.

    Also, the following spring, the school board decided that our playground was dangerous, so a safer one was built, but honestly, I think it would have been better to have gone with the simpler, and FREE, alternative of sitting the kids down for an assembly, and using the incident to tell the cautionary tale of “this is what can happen when you push and shove.” Kids respond better to the visual aid of one of their peers in a cast, than they do to endless lists of rules, and insurance regulations. Common sense works a whole lot better, if you cultivate it early.

  16. sabmad September 23, 2012 at 3:21 pm #

    Hi! I’m the “American Mom” that wrote to Lenore about this whole insurance mess. I will say our mom’s group is a non-profit. Our mom’s group has been around I believe over 25 years and is a great force for good in the community. We have playgroups from ages 0-5 and it’s also based on location, so you get to know moms who live close by. I doubt I would have gotten to know the moms I have become dear friends with, if not for this group. And the dads get to have their own Dads Night Out every month (which usually means meet up at a sports bar and drink beer). Each group does philanthropy, from diaper drives to collecting clothes for babies, children and adults who are less fortunate. Trust me, my group is amazing.

    I believe the insurance is there because I’m sure some regulation requires it. And I understand the Executive Board’s decision, because they are trying to CYA and I guess have visions of mom’s spilling coffee on themselves and suing in a rage of fury. But I was sad to see that instead of seeing mom’s emailing saying “even though the insurance is not valid, I’m going ahead with my playdate anyways”, rather we’re seeing “eeek!! Must cancel!!” without giving any thought as to WHY it’s necessary to cancel in the first place. I will say though that it hasn’t been completely crazy. In my older kid’s playgroup we’re planning a big pizza party (basically the pizza is a hook to get everyone over to play) at a friend’s backyard (with a HUGE sand pit! And a dog! That likes to lick faces!) and we’re all super excited about it. No one has said a word about the suspension of playgroups and I *think* that we’re just excited to get together and everyone is like “I’m just not going to talk about it, so we don’t have to discuss it” kind of thing. :)

  17. Renee Anne September 23, 2012 at 4:06 pm #

    I guess I’m wondering why separate insurance is even needed. What if you were having a family get together or birthday party of, for God’s sake, a holiday like Thanksgiving or Memorial Day? You don’t need a separate policy for those so I don’t really see how this is any different. The only (absolute only) thing I can see is that because the mom’s group is a loosely official organization, perhaps that’s why. But even that’s pushing it.

  18. Sara September 23, 2012 at 4:30 pm #

    I’m wondering if this person is in Mothers & More. I’m in a chapter of that group too and we have group insurance. BUT as far as I understand it, it’s to cover things we do outside our homes – like at parks, community events, parties where we rent out a hall, etc. Your own homeowners insurance would cover anything in your own house. However if it is a legal issue for some reason to have it connected to the group, there’s a simple work-around. Just cancel the official event, then email your friends separately and invite them over.

    To those of you outraged about the idea of an organized mother’s group though – it’s the greatest thing I’ve ever found. You say “just invite friends over” but I wouldn’t have HAD any mom friends if I hadn’t joined my group. It’s really been an amazing way to meet friends for myself and my daughter, find new things to do in the area, and get out for “mom’s nights” once in a while. Don’t knock it til you’ve tried it.

  19. Mike in Virginia September 23, 2012 at 4:37 pm #

    Not that I agree with this, but the problem seems to be that this is a formal organization (non-profit), as opposed to just a bunch of moms getting together. Little difference, I know, but when you formalize something, the rules seem to change. For instance, if you were just having a birthday party, your homeowner’s insurance would cover anything that might happen. If you form a non-profit organization, however, that organization has to have its own insurance. Your homeowner’s insurance belongs to you and doesn’t extend to the organization, and they may even have specific language that states the insurance is not valid in those cases.

    Personally, I would go ahead with the playdates anyway, and perhaps say in the invitation that you are hosting a gathering that is “not affiliated with” the organization.

  20. mpmp September 23, 2012 at 4:40 pm #

    Umbrella policies aren’t new. I believe they’re designed to help cover things your homeowners doesn’t cover. For instance, my parents were in a horrible car accident years ago and used their umbrella policy to help with the massive medical bills. That being said, requiring them before hosting a play date is silly for all the reasons listed above.

  21. sabmad September 23, 2012 at 4:40 pm #

    @Sara, it’s not Mothers and More, but a group like that. Our group is specific to the area where I live, but I’m sure there are other groups like ours. And you’re right! If we really wanted we could “cancel” the playdate and then just re-invite everyone via email. But I guess I would have liked to have seen more was “you know, I know that the insurance has been suspended but I’m just going to take the (infinitesimal) risk vs “eek! you guys might sue me and I am totally exposed! Must cancel!”

  22. mpmp September 23, 2012 at 4:44 pm #

    By the way – I agree that playgroups are a God-send! I have made many dear friends for both myself and my kids because of the wonderful group I was in.

  23. CrazyCatLady September 23, 2012 at 5:21 pm #

    The school that my daughter used to go to had parents drive the kids to field trips.

    I hated it. For one thing, I can only afford liability insurance. Not sure how many people were in the same boat as me. Also, because of the need to get kids back in time to get on the bus home (a joke, because so many kids did not ride the bus but instead had parents pick them up,) the parents drove like bats out of Hell, going way over speed limits, running stop signs and stupid stuff like that. To be a parent driver you just had to prove proof of insurance, not a good driving record or such.

    After doing two trips like this, I ended up refusing to let my daughter ride with anyone but me, and took no other kids. The kid who screamed the whole ride home from the play and poked holes in my seat was the clincher.

    But, I did worry about the insurance aspect to some extent, because the school had all the parents driving sign a form releasing them from any liability if there was an accident during the transportation. Students riding did not have a similar form to sign releasing the parents.

  24. MHM September 23, 2012 at 5:54 pm #

    I’m part of a Mom’s club too. And we don’t have this insurance for our group. I’m on the board and I will not be bringing this to our next meeting. Seems a bit silly to me.

    Maybe state on the playdate invite ” Come and play at your own risk”…

  25. Donna September 23, 2012 at 6:56 pm #

    Huh? It sounds like the insurance company is totally scanning you. Your homeowners insurance covers any invitees that come to your house, whether for a dinner party or kid playdate. It is kinda the point of the liability portion of homeowners insurance. I suppose the anal retentive among us could worry about renters, but the rest of the population has no problem with renters hosting parties as the odds of being sued are minimal.

  26. Donna September 23, 2012 at 6:57 pm #

    That should be “scamming” you, although they may be scanning you as well. (And I hate autocorrect).

  27. Selby September 23, 2012 at 7:01 pm #

    Ridiculous. You have homeowners. It’s enough. Keep doing whatever it is you are doing because it sounds like an amazing group, and furthermore, in the 4 years that you’ve been there, and the 25 (?) years it’s been existence, there have been zero (0) lawsuits. That record should speak for itself. Keep calm and plan the next event.

  28. Donna September 23, 2012 at 7:04 pm #

    After reading the mom’s follow up, it seems the insurance is for the mom’s group. So people can’t sue the mother’s group if Sue trips and falls at Jane’s house during a playdate. Still sounds completely ridiculous – and a scam – as the Jane’s homeowner’s insurance would cover the slip-and-fall injuries and there would not be a valid lawsuit against the mom’s group who did nothing except introduce the parties.

  29. Bill Beeman September 23, 2012 at 10:59 pm #

    @Selby: “Ridiculous. You have homeowners. It’s enough.”

    But it may well not be enough in today’s litigious society, especially in some areas notorious for extreme liability judgements. And and Umbrella Liability Policy is relatively cheap in the overall scheme of things. Remember, a successful plaintiff can go after your savings, home equity, the works. Small probability, but……

    And the mothers group here has its issue because it organized itself into a legal entity, and therefore made itself a target. Sad, but true.

    But I admit I’m one of those that thinks the whole concept of “play groups” and ‘play dates” is absurd. Somehow those of us over 50 managed to survive without them, and I bet we had a far better experience.

  30. Sheila September 24, 2012 at 3:58 am #

    Why not just have each parent sign a waver stating that they will not sue and that they drop their child off at their own risk?

  31. Mrs. H. September 24, 2012 at 4:25 am #

    Three points:

    1. On the “why do you need an organization?” question, I joined such a group because, as a new mom, I didn’t know any other new moms. It was a way to meet new friends with kids the same age and more efficient than picking up other moms at the playground one at a time.

    2. On the insurance question, your homeowners insurance includes some coverage for liability, which is what would pay if someone were injured in your home and sued you. You can also get additional liability coverage–it’s the cheapest kind of insurance out there, and everyone should have a million dollars of coverage.

    3. On the waiver question, waivers are useless–legally meaningless. Organizations have people sign them for the psychological impact; if you’re injured, they think you won’t sue because you remember signing the waiver, but otherwise they’re meaningless.

    And FINALLY, may I just say, in defense of insurance companies: they often get blamed for restrictions their customers have to put in place, but they actually are analyzing the likelihood of a claim and value of claims being paid out and pricing policies accordingly. Insurance is basically a commodity — many, many companies compete on price, and nobody is raking in huge premiums and not paying out ALMOST as much in claims. I mean, look at that company with the talking lizard–how much are they paying for commercials to promote the benefit of lowering a premium only 15%?

    The problem is not with insurance companies, it’s with juries, or with the court system in general and the fact that it’s cheaper to settle a bogus claim than to litigate it. I think the Free Range Kids philosophy could help this if it were to spread far enough, because part of the reason juries award high damages is their mistaken belief that the world CAN be made 100% safe, and therefore, if anything went wrong it has to have been someone’s fault.

  32. Betsy September 24, 2012 at 5:09 am #

    I also joined a moms group that has been around for over 50 years. It was a great way to meet moms that lived nearby with kids the same age. But there are lots of different ways to meet other families. My mom met her best friends at my preschool coop 40+ years ago!

  33. Julie September 24, 2012 at 5:50 am #

    @Sabmab: Do you live in the Bay Area? I am willing to bet I know which organization you’re dealing with. I was a member 2005-2010. It’s definitely a CYA. And don’t let the hysteria of newly first-time moms (which this particular org caters to, almost exclusively) get to you. Have your playdate. Chat with your friends. Let the kids wander around your living room or back yard and enjoy. That is what it’s for. It was a god-send for me to be a part of it when I was new to staying home and didn’t know anyone and needed an adult to talk to sometimes. Don’t let fear of a highly unlikely risk keep you from doing something that you need to do for yourself. (Let’s not pretend the playdates are for the kids!)

  34. Bob Davis September 24, 2012 at 7:16 am #

    It’s not just groups of mothers that have insurance concerns these days. One of the biggest expenses in running railroad excursions is insurance coverage, and many “fantrips” have been proposed and then abandoned once the insurance costs were factored in.

  35. sabmad September 24, 2012 at 2:02 pm #

    @Julie, in the spirit of anonymity I can neither confirm or deny. :) Are you still in the bayarea? I would love to chat with another mom that has read Free Range Kids. My email is muffygrrl @ gmail . com

    And for those that are debating whether or not the insurance is “worth it”. It’s not a question to me at least. The insurance has to be there, and that’s life. But what was disappointing to me was that there were so many people running around like chickens without heads, cancelling their playdates, their MOMS NIGHT IN, for pete’s sake (where all we do is sit around and drink wine and chat) because of some unidentified fear. When I think people just needed to take a breath and say “you know, even though this insurance thing is bothersome, I have a basic belief in humanity (and my FRIENDS) and I’m going to keep my playdate! Come on over!”. There was some of that, but also quite a bit of running around without heads.

  36. Julie September 24, 2012 at 3:45 pm #

    Like one of the earlier commenters, I was in a moms club international group, and that group didn’t carry insurance – there was a waiver when you joined, and technically there was a “sign in sheet” that included a waiver that was supposed to be used at every event, but we rarely actually pulled it out. But we did run into problems when we tried to book venues for parties at parks or the like, because many of them wouldn’t rent the shelters to us unless we had that type of insurance policy. So my guess would be that, like previous posters mentioned, your standard homeowners should cover things if there were an accident in the home, and the umbrella policy would be just for public venues. And I certainly wouldn’t cancel my playdate because of it!

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  38. Jerry Vandesic October 31, 2012 at 6:39 pm #

    sabmad: “I believe the insurance is there because I’m sure some regulation requires it.”

    You need to do more than just make unsupported statements like this. What SPECIFIC regulation requires insurance? Who is the regulator? I am highly suspect.

    On the other hand, this issue could come up as a result of non-regulatory concerns. Paranoid parents, administrators, misreading an insurance document, an overzealous lawyer spouting off during cocktail hour.

    I’d like to hear more about the details of this regulation and what is officially required.

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Trackbacks/Pingbacks

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