4 Reasons Why Haunted Attractions Spook Underwriters

As farmers prepare their acres for seasonal tricks and treats, insurers work hard to garner coverage options for growing Halloween risks.
By: | October 16, 2018 • 4 min read

In autumn, after the corn and apples and potatoes are picked, some farmers harvest an additional cash crop from hayrides, zombie-themed attractions, corn mazes, haunted houses and petting zoos — all major fall and Halloween-themed staples this time of year.


These events, both the Disney-flavored petting zoo and the Walking Dead-flavored zombie attraction, introduce a variety of risks that standard farmers’ insurance isn’t designed to cover.

1. Crazy Stunts

Operators are hungry for novel attractions. The edgier, the better. For example, look at the cannon that launched pumpkins at images of political figures worthy of the shooter’s contempt, said Rusty Rumley, senior staff attorney, National Center for Agricultural Law, University of Arkansas.

These operators tend to be creative people, he said, and may rush to put their ideas into action without pausing to consider risk before the brief harvest festival season ends. “Building a giant potato gun that fires pumpkins 100 yards down a field was a great idea, but did it fall under the insurance policy?” Rumley asked. “Probably not.”

“There are dangers for carriers,” said Kevin Morency, president, Morency & Associates. “Someone gets hurt on the premises, and state laws in most states limit liability due to inherent risk associated with a farm.”

Before any type of event opens, Rumley said, there should be a lot of written communications between the operator and the insurance agent so the agent can spot and fill gaps in coverage.

In addition, he said, operators should use available resources to research best management practices and statutes — more than half of states have agri-tourism statutes — that cover a broad range of issues, such as liability protections for operators, tax credits, zoning and hand-washing stations.

2. Zombies Gone Wild

The internet, insurance agents and carriers are good resources for the checklists and best management practices, Rumley said. For example, hayrides should have rails so people, especially children, don’t fall off.

Special rules apply if the hayride features a zombie attack — a popular attraction where volunteer zombies “attack” the hayride and passengers nail them with paintballs, said Bill Frazier, president and owner, Frazier Insurance. People go all in, dressing their parts and getting “all wound up.”

One zombie, Frazier recalled, “charged too close to the tractor, fell over when he was hit with a paintball bullet, slipped under the tractor and was run over.” He died — a genuine Halloween tragedy during a holiday that should only wink at death.

The precaution, said Frazier, is a zombie captain who ensures a safe distance between zombies and the tractor and keeps participants, both mortals and zombies, from “getting too excited.”

“Underwriters look for more of a spooky theme than scaring the daylights out of participants.” — Clayton Marsh, account executive, ESP Specialty Insurance

Since zombies are volunteer participants in the events, not employees, they’re covered under the insurance policies he writes. The vendors who run many attractions are independent contractors, not the operators’ employees and carry their own insurance, said Frazier.

Typically, operators ask to be additional insureds on vendors’ policies, said Clayton Marsh, account executive, ESP Specialty Insurance. Workers’ compensation isn’t often an issue, he said, because most employees are neither permanent nor full-time.

3. Inappropriate Contact and Physical Risks

Molestation is the primary risk in haunted houses, said Morency. He won’t write accounts that don’t comply with a prohibition against any physical contact between cast members and visitors. As long as the operator monitors the attraction, he said, “it should be okay.”

Carriers demand a full description of loss control measures: Confirmation that there are no stairs in the structure, copies of fire marshal inspections, disclaimers about medical contraindications, fully functional lighting and a no-physical-contact guarantee, said Morency.

They ask about the operator’s and vendors’ loss history and experience running their attractions, said Marsh. Slips and falls account for most haunted house claims, from “jumps and scares.”

“Underwriters look for more of a spooky theme than scaring the daylights out of participants” to keep haunted houses safe, he said. “They’re like the fun police.”

4. E. Coli Sickening Kids

Petting zoos, said Rumley, are a hot-button issue, and not from biting or kicking — although a toddler in diapers is a goat’s favorite butting target, according to Frazier — but E. coli, which is shed in animal feces. Several children get sick from petting zoos every year.


Carriers would like operators to keep kids away from animals behind double fencing, “but that’s not much like a petting zoo,” Rumley said. At least, operators should provide adequate hand washing stations, although a thin layer of hand sanitizer may not kill all the bacteria.

About one quarter of states have handwashing statutes, he said, with prescribed language for signage. Most courts won’t hold operators responsible for claims if the stations themselves and the language on signage conforms to the statute.

Carriers look for annual inspections of animals for diseases, said Morency, and they’re getting stricter on requirements for pony rides: An adult must support a small child in the saddle. For larger children, an adult must watch nearby to ensure they don’t slip off and get trampled. Most don’t allow free riding of donkeys or ponies.

“Carriers want to know about insurance cancellations and liabilities,” said Marsh. “They want to know the venue is well lit, that the animals are low risk, that the tractor isn’t some rickety old thing and that vendors name the operator as an additional insured.” &

Susannah Levine writes about health care, education and technology. She can be reached at [email protected]

4 Companies That Rocked It by Treating Injured Workers as Equals; Not Adversaries

The 2018 Teddy Award winners built their programs around people, not claims, and offer proof that a worker-centric approach is a smarter way to operate.
By: | October 30, 2018 • 3 min read

Across the workers’ compensation industry, the concept of a worker advocacy model has been around for a while, but has only seen notable adoption in recent years.

Even among those not adopting a formal advocacy approach, mindsets are shifting. Formerly claims-centric programs are becoming worker-centric and it’s a win all around: better outcomes; greater productivity; safer, healthier employees and a stronger bottom line.


That’s what you’ll see in this month’s issue of Risk & Insurance® when you read the profiles of the four recipients of the 2018 Theodore Roosevelt Workers’ Compensation and Disability Management Award, sponsored by PMA Companies. These four programs put workers front and center in everything they do.

“We were focused on building up a program with an eye on our partner experience. Cost was at the bottom of the list. Doing a better job by our partners was at the top,” said Steve Legg, director of risk management for Starbucks.

Starbucks put claims reporting in the hands of its partners, an exemplary act of trust. The coffee company also put itself in workers’ shoes to identify and remove points of friction.

That led to a call center run by Starbucks’ TPA and a dedicated telephonic case management team so that partners can speak to a live person without the frustration of ‘phone tag’ and unanswered questions.

“We were focused on building up a program with an eye on our partner experience. Cost was at the bottom of the list. Doing a better job by our partners was at the top.” — Steve Legg, director of risk management, Starbucks

Starbucks also implemented direct deposit for lost-time pay, eliminating stressful wait times for injured partners, and allowing them to focus on healing.

For Starbucks, as for all of the 2018 Teddy Award winners, the approach is netting measurable results. With higher partner satisfaction, it has seen a 50 percent decrease in litigation.

Teddy winner Main Line Health (MLH) adopted worker advocacy in a way that goes far beyond claims.

Employees who identify and report safety hazards can take credit for their actions by sending out a formal “Employee Safety Message” to nearly 11,000 mailboxes across the organization.

“The recognition is pretty cool,” said Steve Besack, system director, claims management and workers’ compensation for the health system.

MLH also takes a non-adversarial approach to workers with repeat injuries, seeing them as a resource for identifying areas of improvement.

“When you look at ‘repeat offenders’ in an unconventional way, they’re a great asset to the program, not a liability,” said Mike Miller, manager, workers’ compensation and employee safety for MLH.

Teddy winner Monmouth County, N.J. utilizes high-tech motion capture technology to reduce the chance of placing new hires in jobs that are likely to hurt them.

Monmouth County also adopted numerous wellness initiatives that help workers manage their weight and improve their wellbeing overall.

“You should see the looks on their faces when their cholesterol is down, they’ve lost weight and their blood sugar is better. We’ve had people lose 30 and 40 pounds,” said William McGuane, the county’s manager of benefits and workers’ compensation.


Do these sound like minor program elements? The math says otherwise: Claims severity has plunged from $5.5 million in 2009 to $1.3 million in 2017.

At the University of Pennsylvania, putting workers first means getting out from behind the desk and finding out what each one of them is tasked with, day in, day out — and looking for ways to make each of those tasks safer.

Regular observations across the sprawling campus have resulted in a phenomenal number of process and equipment changes that seem simple on their own, but in combination have created a substantially safer, healthier campus and improved employee morale.

UPenn’s workers’ comp costs, in the seven-digit figures in 2009, have been virtually cut in half.

Risk & Insurance® is proud to honor the work of these four organizations. We hope their stories inspire other organizations to be true partners with the employees they depend on. &

Michelle Kerr is associate editor of Risk & Insurance. She can be reached at [email protected]