Camp Insurance Trends: Where Have We Been and Where Are We Going?

Gaetana De Angelo
April 2019
Camper on ropes course

For about 20 years, the American Camp Association Insurance Committee has hosted a roundtable discussion with many of the camp industry insurers and insurance brokers attending the ACA National Conference. While the 2019 roundtable brought some new things for consideration to the table, we also saw the recurrence of many of the same type of trends discussed previously.

Each year the committee shares the findings of the roundtable in several ways. At the conference, a session called “Trending Now” is held to simply share with the attendees what was learned during the roundtable, infusing the discussion with not only facts, but practical information camps can use to respond to the trends. A second session called “Ask the Experts” with a panel consisting of a broker, an underwriter, and a camp professional is also held. This is an opportunity for attendees to bring questions from the floor and have them addressed by each professional from their unique perspective. Both sessions are well received and helpful to the attendees.

Since many ACA members do not have the opportunity to attend the National Conference, this article serves as our report-out to the members at large. I’ll begin with a quick overview of claims, followed by discussion on how one can help to mitigate them, and end by addressing some of the trends and concerns that were discussed. Before I launch into what we can do better, I’ll highlight a few things camps are doing well.

  • We are delivering wonderful programs (with a focus on safety) to scores of children and youth across the country in hundreds of camps — in many cases over the span of just a few amazing months each summer! With the creation of more extreme and exciting activities available to camps, the response for approaching them in the appropriate manner has been good.
  • Major auto claims have consistently decreased over the years, especially with the arrival of safer and more efficient, larger vehicles used by camps and staff driver training.
  • Worker comp claims are showing improvement in severity leading to what should be lower premiums for many camps. This will of course be based on your camp’s experience rating, but overall many camps will notice a reduction in premium.

Trends from 2018 Claims

  • Property losses were high, as wildfires, hurricanes, hail storms, flooding, mudslides, and tornados left a devastating impact on camps. This destruction and resulting claims will most likely result in premium increases in property coverage. Some of those increases might be in the double digits.
  • Abuse claims including peer to peer, adult to child, sexual, and physical
  • Auto claims including rental damages, backing up and hitting objects, unauthorized use of camp vehicles
  • Losses related to off road carts including golf carts, ATVs, and other service vehicles
  • Cyber claims are still on the rise including social engineering and hacking
  • Challenge course losses included operator error, improper training and falls from trees while climbing
  • Trips and falls in general
  • Bites from bugs/insects and animals

Property Losses

While many of the triggers for the property losses were unavoidable, there are some things that camps can do to lessen the impact of these losses.

  • Wildfires — the impact of the wildfires was devastating to many camps in the west. The ability to operate camp was severely minimized for several and not possible for others. It will take years to recover from the losses. How can you help to minimize the losses and potentially save buildings during a wildfire crisis?
    • Create defensible space around buildings and activity areas.
      • Firewise is a great resource (nfpa.org/Public-Education/ By-topic/Wildfire/Firewise-USA) to help you plan and manage your camp assets
      • Clear all large brush and natural debris (leaf, pine needles, small branches, etc.) from roofs and gutters and around all buildings and roads.
      • Consider fire resistant materials when building new or renovating old buildings.
      • Create good relationships with the Department of Nature Resources (DNR), local fire fighters, and others who can give you notice of the progress of the fire and or lend a hand in preparing.
    • The time and cost to reconstruct after a property loss has been steadily increasing and many factors must be considered.
      • Check with your insurer to be sure that you have coverage for added expenses — these generally cover increased costs related to code changes, temporary shelters, and other items that are not normally included
      • Loss of income may be covered by Business Income coverage — there is both on-premises (if something on your premises triggers and the loss) and offpremises (if something outside your premises triggers the loss). This warrants a discussion with your insurer — don’t assume you have the proper coverage just because you see it listed in your policy.
      • Following wildfires there are often instances of mudslides and earth movement when rain occurs which can lead to additional damages to roads and buildings.
    • Personal property loss claims are on the rise. With our campers and staff bringing more expensive items with them to camp, they often look to the camp for restitution in the event of a loss.
      • Know what and if you have coverage for the personal possessions of others (campers/ staff) on your property. If you feel committed to replacing possessions when a loss occurs, discuss the amount of coverage you have with your insurer and consider additional coverages.
      • Coverage, if you have it, is generally only extended to when the property is on your site, not when off-site or in transit — such as trips the campers and staff may take.
      • Consider putting a very clearly worded statement in your camper and staff info regarding the potential loss of personal property, including how much financially, if at all, the camp will cover in the event of a loss.

Abuse Claims

While adult-to-child sexual abuse claims are all over the news, physical abuse and peer-to-peer abuse claims continue to trend upward. Camps must have a zero-tolerance policy for abuse of any type and must enforce it consistently when it occurs.

  • Adult-to-child abuse claims from many years ago are garnering staggering awards when ending up in the courts. Much of it has to do with the venue where it is tried, however, public sympathy is at an all-time high due to the enormity of the cover-up in many cases.
    • Many of these cases occurred years ago, in some cases stemming back over 40 years. Do you know what coverage you had on your insurance policy at that time and do you know where your insurance policies are?
      • Everyone, regardless of the length of time your camp has been in operation, needs to be sure that your insurance policies are in tact and saved where they can easily be found.
      • If you have paper documents, consider scanning them to electronic files that can be easily found and searched.
    • Not all claims are from years ago. There is a rise in claims of abuse that occurs “in the open.” Predator adults as well as other campers have been inappropriately touching campers while on buses or sitting at tables where their hands cannot be seen.
    • Claims have been brought against camp owners and directors, the very people who should be charged with protecting campers and staff.
      • Every camp should have a method for complaints to be brought forward that does not include having to deliver them to the very staff who may be the abuser. Consider an 800 number or closed-box method that is reviewed by someone outside of the camp.
      • If an allegation is brought against an owner/director, be sure that an uninvolved third party investigates the allegations.
  • Physical Abuse Claims (in addition to sexual abuse) are showing up with greater frequency, both adult to camper and camper to camper.
    • Does your camp encourage physical activities that develop unhealthy competition leading to acts of impulsive anger? Healthy competition is needed valuable to both children and adults, but when it reaches the point that people lash out in anger, it results on physical abuse claims of pushing, shoving, and actual physical violence.
      • Consider limiting staff involvement in the actual activity — they should be coaching, not participating.
      • Training is a key to eliminating and avoiding physical abuse claims. Train your staff how to identify inappropriate behaviors in both their peers and campers.

Auto/Cart Claims and Concerns

As stated earlier, we are have seen a decrease in major auto losses related to roll over and crashes. However, there is a tremendous increase in nuisance claims related to things that could be avoided easily. Many camps are being surprised with unexpected vehicle damage claims months after camp closes. In many cases, the camp was not even aware that the vehicle was damaged. However, often they returned the vehicle when the agency was closed and have no proof.

  • Backing up and rentals — bump and ding claims related to backing up vehicles is at an all-time high! Be sure staff understand it is critically important to be careful when backing up vehicles. While this type of claim may seem petty in comparison with a major claim, they are costing camps much in repair claims, especially with rental vehicles.
    • When picking up a rental vehicle, be sure to walk around the entire perimeter of the vehicle and take pictures or a video of the condition of the vehicle.
    • When dropping off a rental vehicle, again, take picture or video of the condition of the vehicle and be sure to return the vehicle to the rental agency when they are open, so they can sign off on the condition of the vehicle.
    • If the vehicle is damaged, be sure that you have them clearly note where and the severity and have the pictures to prove it. If not, it can come back to you as a much more extensive claim in the future. Rental companies need to turn these vehicles around fast. You may be dinged (pun intended) for damage that you did not create.
  • Staff using their own vehicles for camp business. Who is responsible for damage to staff members personal cars they are using for camp business or if it is parked at camp while they are working? At first glance, you may say, they are of course, and in many cases that is true. While commercial auto coverage does not generally cover physical damage to non-camp vehicles, some losses could result in a general liability claim.
    • First, if any staff are required to use their personal vehicle for camp business, be sure that you have a written agreement with them regarding the use of such and who is responsible for what. Require them to carry appropriate vehicle insurance as required by your state, and make sure you have a current motor vehicle report and driver disclosure for them on file. Whenever possible, use camp vehicles for camp business to avoid any confusion.
    • Be sure to have designated parking areas for camp staff and make sure they are relatively free of any hazards such as overhanging trees with large limbs and rutted roads. Require your staff to use these parking areas. If someone choses to park in an area that is clearly not designed for parking, and their vehicle is damaged, they will have a hard time proving your negligence (unless, that is, you allow it to be a common practice).
    • Be sure that they understand that if they give others a ride in their vehicle on staff time off, they are responsible for the welfare of those persons while they are riding in the vehicle.
  • Golf carts and other service vehicles. Do you consider golf carts and other service vehicles such as ATVs, Gator and Polaristype carts as vehicles? If not, you should, as claims related to these types of vehicles are on the rise and with advancements in design, many operate very similar to on the road vehicles and can attain reasonably fast speeds.
    • If you don’t already do so, design a training and assessment of drivers of these types of vehicles. Have drivers sign an acknowledgement that they understand the use of the vehicle.
    • Be sure to include a safety check sheet just as you do with other camp vehicles, require that drivers are licensed vehicle drivers and have a clean MVR.
    • Limit the number of drivers and set a minimum age limit for driving use.
    • Revoke driving privileges and discipline staff when the use of the vehicles is abused (overloading, speeding, reckless driving, etc.)

Cyber Claims

Social engineering and hacking claims continue to show an increase in the camping industry. Educating yourself and your staff to the dangers of free or open internet options and suspect emails is key to creating a safe internet environment.

  • Free is not always good. Claims of hacking have resulted from the use of electronic devices in public places such as coffee shops.
  • Social engineering is getting more and more sophisticated, but still often the result of poor management practices. Have redundant checks and balances in place to ensure that the email you are receiving is from who you think it is.

Challenge Courses and Bug Bites

  • Challenge course incidences are often traced back to training rather than equipment failure.
    • We have covered multiple times in the past that second and third generation training (having some staff trained by an industry professional but having those staff train others) is not worth the money you save as ultimately something is missed or not emphasized strongly and accidents happen.
    • Fatigue is also an issue even with properly trained individuals. Consider having a four-hour limit per day with multiple breaks for staff who facilitate courses out in the open sun. Install shade barriers on the tops of towers for staff stationed there and encourage hydration.
  • Bug/insect and dog bites are leading to claims, often related to improper care and infection.
    • Be sure to educate campers and staff to be aware of insect bites and to monitor the condition of them. Have a clear tick protocol in place.
    • Dog bites from staff-owned animals are also showing up with some frequency. Have policies around staff-owned dogs and other service/therapy animals that campers and staff may want to bring with them to camp. Monitor the effectiveness of the policies and adjust as needed.

Other Concerns

Although claims have not arisen from the items discussed below, the possibility for such is on the horizon and policies and procedures should be put in place now to address the potential issues related to each.

  • Mental health and transgender issues that could result in wrongful termination of staff claims and or non-admittance of campers.
    • Be sure that your camp has coverage for such a claim. This is not covered under general liability but may be defensible under Employment Practices Liability (EPL) coverage. Check with your insurer about EPL coverage. This is often included in nonprofit Director and Officers insurance; however, private camps may not have the coverage.
    • If you are not a camp that primarily serves campers with medical and mental health issues, be sure that your interactions and communications with the parents are clear and fair. Your first concern is what is best for the camper and although parents may feel a camp will benefit from the experience, you must look at the entire picture of how it will impact the other campers and staff. Don’t commit to something you can’t deliver and be prepared to discuss with the parents why you are not able to accommodate their child.
    • Be sure that you have discussed in advance and are addressing the needs of transgender campers who may want to or already be attending your camp.
  • Medical marijuana/CBD oil, drug testing, and use of JUUL and other electronic cigarettes
    • Medical marijuana/CBD oil and the use of such in camps by campers and staff come with many important considerations above just how you will store it.
      • Although medical marijuana/CBD oil may be legal in some states for use by campers, ACA standards require that all medications (with a few emergency exceptions such as auto-injector epinephrine and rescue inhalers) be stored and administered by camp personal. Licensing restrictions prohibit professional health care providers such as nurses from administering medical marijuana.
      • Do you have a zero-tolerance drug policy at camp? If so, does this extends to the use of medical marijuana? Although legal in some states, marijuana is still illegal federally. The storage and administration of medical marijuana should be carefully examined.
    • JUUL and other electronic cigarette-type devices
      • Have clear policies regarding the use of these types of devices while attending or working at camp.
      • There has been a rise in the use of these types of devices by youth and it steadily increases. The JUUL device has some unique features that make it more appealing to campers and staff, but also potentially more dangerous as evidenced by this information taken (E-Cigarette Use Among Youth and Young Adults: e-cigarettes.surgeongeneral.gov).
        • JUUL resembles a USB drive. It can be concealed as a USB drive and used in public spaces, such as schools. It is charged in the USB port of a computer or laptop.
        • The liquid in JUUL pods contain nicotine salts from tobacco leaves. The nicotine salts are absorbed into the body at almost the same rate as nicotine from a combustible cigarette. Inhaling vapor from nicotine salts goes down smoothly and doesn’t produce the irritating feeling in the chest and lungs that combustible cigarettes do.
        • JUUL has more than twice the amount of nicotine concentrate as many other brands of e-cigarettes. This has raised concerns that it may have a higher risk of addiction than other e-cigarettes. One cartridge, called a pod, has roughly the equivalent amount of nicotine as one pack of cigarettes.

I will close by talking a bit about staff and volunteer recruitment and training. We have all been faced with the reality of the first day of camp approaching and late hires and volunteers being brought in just before or during camp sessions. Traditionally, camps are not the highest-paying jobs around, and with ever-increasing opportunities for potential staff to find employment elsewhere that pays more, we are often faced with interested prospective staff not being of the highest caliber or prepared for the unique circumstances surrounding working and living in camp surroundings. Don’t settle for just any warm body; hire very intentionally, and if the person is not the right one to help you deliver your mission, cut them loose.

Here are some practical guides to help you plan for appropriate and through training of these late hires.

  • First, have a clear distinction between employed staff and volunteers. Have clear job descriptions for both and be sure to consider what non-pay compensation (stipends, free camp for their child, room and board, etc.) you may be awarding volunteers, which could move them into the class of staff versus volunteer where workers’ compensation is concerned.
  • Ensure that regardless of when a staff or volunteer is brought in to work that you are providing the same level of training you would for one that started in the beginning.
    • Making use of a combination of in-person, blended video, and self-study (use of a facilitative guide and comprehension assessment) trainings will often allow you to bring the late hire up to speed with the rest of the staff in a shorter amount of time.

Above all, remember everything we do at camp should be centered around delivering on our mission to provide a safe, fun and educational outdoor experience for children and youth. Make it the best experience you can, and you will change the life of a child for the better.


Gaetana De Angelo, recently retired after more than 30 years with the Girl Scouts of Greater Atlanta, is an independent consultant specializing in risk management in the camping and non-profit sectors. She serves as the chair for the ACA Insurance Committee and can be reached at gaetanadeangelo@gmail.com