United States: Ask The Public Adjustor: Covering Life With Wisdom

Last Updated: December 6 2016
Article by Robert D. Helfand

Dear Public Adjustor:

I'm often proud of my dad, like when he stood up to the PTA about The Catcher in the Rye. But lately he has me worried. He's sacrificed an entire season's corn crop to build a ballfield in the middle of nowhere. He says people will pay him to watch invisible men play games. He even thinks he can sell them his "signature" hot dogs. (I tried one; it nearly killed me.)

Look, he wasn't much of a farmer, but he's surely no George Steinbrenner. And as far as I can tell, ghost baseball isn't even a thing. Can Dad really make a go of this? Or should I be getting him professional help?

Potentially Shoeless
Elkader, Iowa

Dear Pot:

If the insurance business teaches us anything, it's that risk should be managed, not simply avoided. I'll admit your father's venture sounds a little improbable, but that doesn't mean you should dismiss it out of hand.

Just look at what happened in Volusia County Cattlemen's Assoc. v. Western World Ins. Co., No: 6:15-cv-1239-Orl-41DAB (M.D. Fla. Oct. 27, 2016). Every year, the plaintiff in that case persuades residents of Deland, Florida, to pay good money for admission to "Cracker Day" (their name, not mine). These guests get to enjoy the "Greased Pig" event, or they can pay an up-charge for the "Cow Whip" and "Steer Decorating."

A highlight of the day is the "Cash Grab," in which participants share an arena with an unrestrained, fully-grown bull or steer and try to pull away a ribbon that's tied to the animal's horn. According to Bernie LeFils, Vice President of the cattlemen's association that organizes Cracker Day, it's "similar to running with the bulls over in Europe, but here it's just one bull. It makes a difference."

Not everyone agrees. On Cracker Day 2013, a Ms. Desiree Cicero joined the Cash Grab, but was "violently gored" before she could come away with the ribbon. Two years later, Ms. Cicero sued the cattlemen's association, claiming it had failed to warn her that yanking items off the person of roaming cattle might expose her to certain perils. The association tendered the case to the issuer of its commercial general liability policy, but the insurer denied coverage, and the association brought an action against it for a declaratory judgment in federal court.

When the insurer moved for summary judgment, it relied, in part, on an "Athletic or Sports Participants Exclusion" in the association's policy. The exclusion provided:

This insurance does not apply to any claim arising from practicing for or participating in any event of a sporting or athletic nature."

The association argued that the Cash Grab was not an "event of a sporting or athletic nature," because, it maintained, only "typical sporting events" deserve that appellation. But the court held that the market for "sports" goes way beyond the NFL:

[T]he term 'sport' has been defined as 'a source of diversion[;] recreation ... [or] physical activity engaged in for pleasure.' ... Under this definition, the cash grab undoubtedly qualifies as an event of a sporting or athletic nature. Participants ... physically exerted themselves ... for the pleasure of the competition and as a type of game or amusement."

The association also questioned the extent of Ms. Cicero's exertion; it denied that the Cash Grab was an "actual athletic event," because the contestant had run only "about ten feet" before her bovine quarry redirected her. In the court's opinion, though, even that three-yard dash counts as an "athletic event" in an age of ESPN and extreme ironing.

[T]he cash grab was physical activity engaged in for fun, regardless of the level of effort exerted by Cicero or how far she ran. In conclusion, the cash grab qualifies as a sport and was an event of an athletic or sporting nature."

You see where I'm going. If the population of Volusia County will turn out for an ungulate strip-tease, there's got to be money in staging games in Iowa among baseball's all-time greats—even if they can't actually be seen.

To be clear, I'm not ready to promise they will come. But it's not as if farming is a sure thing. So before you reject the old man's project, I strongly suggest you consider the business insights of the Sage of Baltimore.

Yours, etc.

The Public Adjustor
[Location Withheld]

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