Insurance - this sporting life…

Connexion edition: July 2007

France is home to many spectacular, unique and inexpensive sporting opportunities.
Whether you live in town, in the mountains or by the sea there usually a means to get out and become involved.

There is also every reason to be careful - and it may be wise to think about insurance, especially if your chosen sport is not without an element of danger. There are two risks to insure against depending on whether you are responsible for causing an accident or if you are the victim of one.

Laurence Huchez, of the French Insurance Federation (FFSA), said: “Insurance cover depends on whether the sport is practised individually (jogging, hiking or roller skating for example), or as part of a club (horse riding, football, climbing). Clubs in France have safety obligations and are deemed responsible for the accidents caused by the fault of their members. For individuals, various insurance schemes are available from either the related federation or private insurance companies.

“The French Mountain and Climbing Federation for example offers independent climbers a comprehensive policy for €80 a year, rising to €86 to cover down-hill skiing. It always pays to check though, as insurance is often included when skiers buy their lift passes, for example.”

Insurance companies offer individual accident or garantie des accidents de la vie (GAV) policies which cover both general and sporting accidents.

An extension of an existing multi-risk policy - multirisques habitation - is also possible. Mrs Huchez added: “People should check their sport is not excluded from the policy, especially if it is considered ‘dangerous’ like such as bob sleighing or paragliding.”

Prices depend on the policy-holder’s age and occupation. MAIF’s Praxis Solution policy, for instance, includes all sports and costs €118 a year. An individual sportsperson is responsible not only for damages that he or she causes by a fault but also damage caused by objects like ski poles or ice skates that they are using at the time.

In Chambery last year, the Appeal Court ordered a skier to pay compensation after losing control on the slopes and crashing into another skier. The civil code stipulates that individuals are obliged to pay for damages. If, however, it is impossible to establish who caused a collision between two skiers, judges consider the responsibility shared and each person must pay for damages suffered by the other party.

If the victim has broken the rules of the sport, or not followed advice given by an instructor, compensation will be reduced. This applied to a decision by the Appeal Court in Nimes concerning a person learning how to paraglide who hurt himself after taking off from a rocky out crop and not the designated area recommended by the instructor. If the accident takes place at a sports club the FFSA website states that if you are responsible for causing an accident either your insurance company, or the club’s insurer, will compensate the victim.

The French Equestrian Federation, for example, says insurance is offered to all members belonging to France’s 6,400 affiliated clubs when they join. The annual fee for adults is €36 and €25 for children. A policy covering damage caused by the horse itself is also offered for €26 a year. A club, association or company can be held responsible if a fault on their part is the origin of an accident.

For example, during a dressage show, a rider fell off their horse which reared up, frightened by noise made by children playing nearby. The judge ruled that the rider be compensated as the instructor should have stopped the noise and was negligent in not doing so.

The organiser is under an obligation to survey the safety of participants and, if this is not done, the victim can demand compensation.

Likewise, clubs and associations are responsible for damages caused to members who break the rules, even if the incident went unnoticed by the referee. This applies to a player who deliberately knocks over a member of the opposing team, even if the club itself has not committed a fault.

Mrs Huchez added: “This form of responsibility is very constraining and the law obliges organisers of activities to take a civil responsibility insurance covering them and their members.”

The question of responsibility can be reduced or invalidated if the fault arises from an involuntary gesture, especially in team sports, that carry a certain risk, such as rugby or football. In this case courts consider that players are aware of the sport’s risks and have accepted them.

This was the case of a football goalkeeper who was judged not responsible for injuring an opponent by accidentally kicking him or a tennis player hit in the eye from a ball coming from a neighbouring court.