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Paul Copello is a first-class skier himself, as is his wife, and he has been specializing in ski coverage for four years. "We get requests for various modifications and types of ski insurance, like avalanches and forest fires. And especially since so many lodges are diversifying with pastimes like swimming, skating, fish ponds, riding and dog sleds. We've had one request from a place which wanted to insure a helicopter to fly the skiers from the main location to a higher peak. We will insure against dogs biting guests in a sled, but we will never insure skiers flying in helicopters."
The biggest problem confronting the writers of ski insurance is that too many skiers today are sue-happy. "If they crash into a tree," says one insurance man, "they sue the operator because the tree shouldn't be there." They can sue, but they may not collect any damages. A few years ago a U.S. District Court ruled that the owner of a ski trail was not liable if a skier tripped on a tree stump that was too thinly covered with snow. In his opinion, the judge said, "the skier who takes part in such a dangerous sport is not seeking a retreat for meditation, but faces its dangers open-eyedly. If he is timorous, he should stay at home." Hitting another skier? Well, that can be a pretty slippery business. In Germany in 1959 a judge decided in favor of an elderly skier who was rammed by a young schussboomer. "The skier commits an offense if he doesn't control his speed so as to be able to stop before collision," said the judge, awarding damages. Aside from the vistas of ski liability insurance that the case may have opened, it conjured up mental pictures of hillside police and radar traps in the snow.
Golfers, too, have been awarded judgments for being hit by the errant shots of other golfers. And the players on the professional tour, though they are in little danger from stray shots, have been outstandingly successful in picking up fat insurance payoffs for other calamities. A few years ago an extraordinary number of pros were inadvertently hitting tree roots with long irons and collecting disability. The man who made possible this bizarre bonanza was a nattily dressed executive in Dallas named James Hereford. In one giant swoop seven years ago Hereford went out on the tour and sold insurance to 250 pros. He was able to do it because he knew a lot of the golfers, both by name and by psychology.
A five-handicap player himself, Hereford knew that the self-sympathetic moaning of golfers had always been as much a part of the game as unrepaired divots. He knew too that the game's greatest moaners, pound for pound, were the greatest shotmakers—the touring pros. The pros have a firm belief that the player among them who is sick or injured will win a tournament or a big purse in the same week that he has been bitten by an alligator shoe and nearly strangled by a crawling alpaca sweater. Jimmy Hereford's idea was that the pros had talked themselves into being the most accident-prone athletes in the non-perilous sports field. They were pushovers for his inexpensive ($350) policy.
The thing that not even Hereford realized was that the pros really are almost as accident-prone as paratroopers. More than $200,000 in claims have now been paid out. The claims have run so high that Hereford has had to place the business in three different places. Even Lloyd's of London surrendered it.
"It's not that the boys have tried to get to anybody," says Hereford. "They're just unlucky."
They might be unlucky at having accidents, but they are lucky to have Hereford. Doug Sanders, for example, was leading the Colombian Open in 1958 when he tore some ligaments in his right ankle while attempting to hit a shot from behind a tree. He did not win the tournament, but he got $4,000 on a claim—which was more than first money. Since then Sanders' daughter has slammed a motel door on his finger, he has slipped down in a rowboat and he has been jolted from behind in an automobile while waiting for a signal light to change. "Old Doug hasn't always collected," says Hereford, "but he still may be golf insurance's leading money winner."
Julius Boros, the 1963 U.S. Open champion, has fallen off a sofa and broken his toe, and he has had his other foot injured when his small son jumped on it (he collected both times for a total of $3,000). Australian Bruce Crampton tumbled down an unlighted stairway and smashed his arm through a window glass ($1,800). Tony Lema, long before he began drinking champagne, was flipped by a throw rug ($1,200). And Jack Burke is the leading hitter of tree roots, with $3,000 in claims.
The injuries are constant to the pros, and Jimmy Hereford's files reveal that more than 50 of them have received payments for temporary disability, which range from Gardner Dickinson's aching back ($15,000) to Mike Fetchick's blistering heel ($800). The basic rule is that the golfer's injury, on or off the fairway, must result in an accidental physical handicap and not in a psychosomatic spell of three-putting.