The Whistler Off-Road Cycling Association announced this week that they would continue operations as usual, accepting membership applications and hosting events, after reaching a settlement in a civil claims lawsuit.
Just before their next court hearing was scheduled, WORCA and the plaintiff, Dr. Ruth Gibson, reached a settlement which will allow the club to continue as before - with a lot of changes that WORCA said will make the group safer going forward.
The lawsuit stems from the Aug. 27, 2009 Toonie Ride, which crossed Stonebridge Road. Gibson was riding her road bike back down the hill when a racer rode in front of her, resulting in a crash that she alleged left her with permanent injuries. She initiated a lawsuit, alleging among other things that WORCA did not have proper signage or marshals in place to warn her of the danger.
WORCA refuted all of her allegations in its own statement of defence. The hearing was set for May 10 before the parties settled.
Through the litigation WORCA officials were shocked to discover that they didn't have any insurance for the entire 2009 season, despite paying $30,000 in fees and regularly receiving proof of insurance certificates to give to third parties like Whistler Blackcomb and the municipality while hosting WORCA events.
WORCA purchased their insurance through the SSEI Insurance Agency and broker Nick Di Perno, who had his licence suspended by the Insurance Council of British Columbia in 2010. Council Executive Director Gerald Matier questions whether it was an honest mistake on the broker's part.
"He was issuing certificates, he was collecting the money," he said.
"A one-off (mistake) could be paperwork, more than one-off is not paperwork. At the very least it's incompetence at a very high level...
"My own personal opinion is that you can't issue that many policies and collect that much premium and not be aware of the fact."
Matier said that the suspension prevents Di Perno from attempting to register as a broker in any other province, and that a hearing won't be necessary unless Di Perno attempts to dispute the suspension or have his licence reinstated - something Matier doubts will happen, given that Di Perno surrendered his licence willingly to the Council.
In WORCA's case, it also meant that they did not have any insurance to cover legal costs or to pay Dr. Gibson if her civil suit was successful. However, WORCA has received a partial refund of its fees from 2009 from Di Perno.
The Council is not legally able to take further action against the broker, and Matier said that it's up to Di Perno's clients to sue to get their money back. There is no criminal investigation at this point.
WORCA is not pursuing Di Perno legally though negotiations are continuing to try and recover the insurance money.
Several other organization in Whistler and B.C. had also purchased insurance policies through SSEI, although it's unknown if there were any issues relating to their paperwork. For example, Canadian Snowmobile Adventures received word that there were issues with SSEI from the insurance council, and promptly switched to another company.
Craig Mackenzie, WORCA's youth director, said the litigation and issues with insurance occupied the board's attention for most of the past winter, and that the board was grateful to Dr. Gibson for dropping the suit in light of the lack of insurance.
On a positive note, he said the suit has also influenced WORCA in a beneficial way, forcing the organization to take a closer look at everything it does and to create a comprehensive safety plan. For example, every Toonie Ride of the 2011 season will now have a dedicated First Aid worker.
They also purchased insurance for 2011 from Marsh Canada, a leading international broker that will ensure that the organization is covered for all of its activities going forward.
"What we did is we sat down as a board and wrote down everything that we do that we might need coverage for, whether it's things like youth camps and our coaches, or our races and clinics - all that sort of stuff. Even trail maintenance days," said Mackenzie.
The result was a six-page document that they shopped around to various insurance agencies, before deciding on Marsh Canada.
WORCA cancelled the first Toonie Ride of the season on May 5 because of the amount of snow in the valley, and delayed their annual bike swap while they worked with Dr. Gibson to reach a settlement.
Now the club is back in action. The first Toonie Ride is tonight (Thursday, May 12) and the bike swap is back on for Saturday, May 21. See Sports for more information.