Look before you leap

You should think about insurance for dangerous pursuits, writes Edmund Tirbutt
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The Independent Online
In Summer a young man's fancy (or a young woman's) turns to ... parachuting, hang-gliding, bungee jumping even.

On warm weekends many people are tempted to try potentially hazardous activities for a thrill. There are thought to be between 80 and 100 fatal sporting accidents every year, excluding drownings. But these are not always in the sports you might expect. The British Parachute Association, which accounts for 30,000 one-off jumps a year and has 4,500 full-time members, reported only one fatality last year. The British Hang-gliding and Paragliding Association (BHPA), which has 10,000 members, admits to a handful of serious injuries and a further 100 or so broken limbs during the same period. This compares with just the odd sprained ankle from a tricky parachute landing.

Squibbs Insurance Consultants, which has handled the liability insurance for most reputable bungee jumping clubs in Britain since 1992, claims to have never had a fatality or serious injury. Claims have been mainly for cuts, bruises and abrasions and have rarely had anything to do with the jump.

But despite the seemingly lower-than-imagined risks of indulging in such activities via a recognised club or organiser, any regular participant wanting a decent level of insurance cover is likely to be waving goodbye to the best part of a pounds 1,000 a year. Most people are likely to think twice before spending that sort of money on insurance.

Mercifully, those trying these activities once only are often spared from having to decide whether to buy insurance. People will generally find they are insured under a life or health insurance policy, or a policy providing an income if you cannot work after an accident.

Keith Jamson, of Chessman & Partners, independent financial advisers, says: "The insurer will normally stick with you as long as you had no intention [of participating in the hazardous activity] at the time you took out the policy. If, on the other hand, you are intending to participate it is essential to declare the fact." This will allow an adviser to get the best possible insurance terms, which may cost no more than normal, he added. If instead you fail to mention you are an obsessive hang-glider when you take out insurance you could find a policy will not pay out.

Specialist insurance is expensive. Policies offered through clubs and associations are no exception. The BHPA, for example, offers insurance for a single day's hang-gliding or paragliding for pounds 7.80, or pounds 104 for a year. But this pays out just pounds 10,000 in the event of death or permanent disability or pounds 100 a week for up to two years for being off work due to temporary disablement. Both sums are hardly likely to be adequate; for most people, life insurance of pounds 50,000 and a pounds 500 weekly income will be more appropriate when premiums might be five times more.

Local insurance brokers are unlikely to be better. Crispin Speers & Partners has an Amateur Sports Protection Plan with a pounds 104 minimum annual premium. But for the highest risk sports this will offer just pounds 10,000 of cover in the event of accidental death or the loss of use of limbs and eyes, or pounds 20,000 in the event of total permanent disablement. Other benefits are barely worth mentioning. Additions to travel insurance policies can be another possibility. WorldCover Direct, for example, offers medical expenses insurance for dangerous sports on its annual policy for an additional premium of pounds 27 or pounds 16, depending on the sport.

One other possibility is SportsCover Direct's Accident Cover, which costs up to pounds 77.50 a year if you want to do paragliding and hang gliding. It gives pounds 10,000 of cover against death and disability and pounds 3m third- party cover.

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