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SOUTHLAND BUSINESS

Rock Climbers Stranded

January 05, 1986|BRUCE KEPPEL

The liability insurance crunch has left the Sierra Club's rock-climbing section hanging after more than 50 years of recreational and instructional scaling at all degrees of difficulty--and has caused the club's Angeles Chapter to cancel a scheduled training course in basic rock climbing and safety techniques.

"Due to the lack of liability insurance, the Sierra Club can no longer allow the rock climbing section to do any technical rock climbing or to continue with its training course," Kathy Moore, head of the section's training committee, wrote to those who registered to take the planned course. The club "worked hard to try to resolve the problem," Moore said. "We negotiated with other insurance companies. Attorneys were contacted. We talked with clubs all over the nation to gain insight into this crisis. Unfortunately, we came up empty handed."

According to Leonard Levitt, director of finance at the club's headquarters in San Francisco, Johnson & Higgins, its insurance broker, contacted 55 insurers in an effort to renew the $20-million general liability coverage, which expired Oct. 1. That survey uncovered four insurance companies, Levitt said, that were willing to write a total of $4.5 million in coverage and for a premium he described as "about three times what we paid last year and for a lot less insurance."

The general liability coverage also excludes certain activities, including more-advanced rock climbing requiring ropes and other special gear, Levitt said.

In notifying Angeles Chapter members of the cancellation, Moore also announced formation of a new organization, the Southern California Mountaineers Assn. Michael Feldman, a member of the Angeles Chapter's executive committee and acting president of the new association, emphasized the new group's separation from the Sierra Club. "We are an independent, California nonprofit corporation," Feldman said. But participants on its climbs will be asked to sign a waiver giving up any legal claim for damages from climbing accidents, he said. Many climbers are covered by their employers' health and medical benefits, he added. The waivers are clearly worded "and almost sobering to read," he added. "If you have an accident on one of our outings, your insurance protection can be summed up in two words: Forget it."

Feldman said the association plans to conduct excursions and offer climbing classes similar to those offered by the Sierra Club rock climbing section since 1934--apparently the Southland's only such program offering instruction at all levels of difficulty. "We're going to carry on that tradition," he said.

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