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For Insurance Firms, Moshing Is the Pits

April 23, 1995|Steve Hochman

Is a punk concert really a punk concert without a roiling mosh pit and daredevil body surfing and stage diving?

Punk bands and fans of the resurgent, aggressive style may have to find out in the not-too-distant future. A growing stream of lawsuits concerning mosh-related injuries is leading insurance companies to crack the whip--and raise their rates--on vulnerable promoters and performers.

Last year, at least two fans were paralyzed due to mosh-related injuries at U.S. concerts, one at a Lollapalooza date in North Kingston, R.I., the other at a show featuring punk-metal bands Biohazard, Sepultura and Pantera in Columbia, Md. Less serious injuries are more common, from broken legs suffered in slam dance frenzies to alleged rough treatment by security guards ostensibly hired to prevent moshes from getting out of hand.

"Mosh is a four-letter word," says Ann Liederman, who as Los Angeles branch manager for the Haas & Wilkerson insurance brokerage has represented acts from hard-rock's Guns N' Roses to the new punk sensation Offspring.

In recent years, she and others in the concert business have watched insurance costs either skyrocket or disappear for rap and metal shows and says the same is set to happen for punk.

"With rap, it started with the (melee) at a Run-DMC show in Long Beach in 1986, and after that insurance companies didn't want to do rap at all or they were naming their terms," Liederman says. "Punk is fast coming up behind that."

At the very least, rising insurance rates for the shows will be reflected in ticket prices, which could put a severe crimp in a concert that prides itself on keeping admission costs low.

Some bands and promoters are trying to rein-in the mosh phenomenon before it's too late. The Beastie Boys, among others, stop concerts to scold their fans for potentially dangerous behavior, while many concert venues have installed barriers to keep fans from stage diving.

Kevin Topper, who handles insurance for promoters, artists and venues for the Reliance National firm, advises his clients to take measures to protect themselves from lawsuits, including video-taping mosh pits.

"Often it's the people who are most aggressively stage diving and moshing who end up being the ones who sue for injuries," he says. "If you have a video showing that it was their own reckless behavior that caused it, you can dismiss a case easily."

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