When Collingwood mom Sarah Burke started planning her daughter’s milestone birthday this year, she didn’t realize how quickly the costs for a simple pool party could rise beyond the reasonable.
In addition to the costs of the facility rental, permit fee and the hiring of a lifeguard, Burke was stunned to find out through her insurance broker that the cost of third-party liability insurance for the under-two-hour event would run as high as $236.
Burke recently contacted the Wasaga Beach YMCA to inquire about the costs of renting the pool for her daughter’s party. Proof of third-party liability insurance was a requirement for the rental.
“We were hoping it was going to reasonable, but it’s not,” said Burke. “I can’t imagine many people – whether it be a youth group, birthday party or people coaching (sports) – how they’re affording it.”
“This was eye-opening. I knew this was happening with sports, but I didn’t realize it was happening for simple things like birthday parties.”
Burke notes her daughter made a rep volleyball team this year, and the expenses for that are also high.
“Part of that cost is also paying for the insurance,” she said.
Even Burke’s mother, who volunteers with a local Grandmothers to Grandmothers group, has noted that the charitable organization is having to pay for third-party liability insurance to rent space for their meetings at a local church.
Most public facilities that can be rented out for private use – such as Town of Collingwood facilities, gyms at local schools in the Simcoe County District School Board and the Simcoe Muskoka Catholic District School Board as well as the YMCA, local churches and other public spaces – require renters to provide proof of third-party liability insurance.
Third-party liability insurance is a type of coverage that financially protects you if you're considered responsible for damages or injury to another person or their property.
While this type of insurance isn’t new, industry experts say they’ve seen an increase in public facility owners formalizing the requirement following more instances of lawsuits.
“The owner of the venue wants to make sure that the person renting has insurance coverage so if one of their guests get hurt, the venue owner is not going to be responsible for paying for any lawsuit,” said Anne Marie Thomas, director of consumer and industry relations with the Insurance Bureau of Canada.
“They want to make sure they’re not going to be held responsible,” she said.
Thomas said the issue of lawsuits is more prevalent in the United States, however, Canada is catching up.
“People in Canada are becoming more litigious,” she said. “Venues and municipalities are becoming more aware of the risk because their insurance costs will also be impacted.”
“It could just be that we’re becoming more educated.”
Thomas notes that venue owners are also required to have their own insurance in the event of a lawsuit, but that their insurance would protect them in the event of a lawsuit related to an issue with the facility itself, whereas third-party liability protects the renter in the event it is determined they are at fault.
“If you’re hosting a party and rent a space, the venue owner wouldn’t be there. If someone trips in the parking lot because the pavement is broken, that’s the venue’s responsibility,” said Thomas. “If a guest brings a dog and somebody trips over it, that’s not the venue owner’s negligence.”
For Burke, the issue boils down to exclusivity and access.
“A place like the YMCA is meant to encourage strong mental health and fitness for the community. If only certain community members can afford to cover those expenses – whether it be for a youth group, a charity or a special birthday party – then it’s not inclusive,” said Burke. “It really frustrates me in a time when we’re seeing increased mental health issues across the board.”
“These are hurdles and roadblocks,” she added.
While Burke says her family could afford to put out the funds, she acknowledges her family’s privilege in being able to do so, but ultimately decided on alternate plans for her daughter’s birthday.
“It’s ridiculous to spend that kind of money on a birthday party. It makes me think about families that are struggling...what do they do?” she said, noting that even many outdoor public spaces require users to pay for parking now.
At the Wasaga Beach YMCA, facility renters are required to provide proof of liability insurance with a minimum coverage of $2 million per occurrence ($5 million for higher-risk activities) endorsed to include the YMCA of Simcoe/Muskoka as an additional insured.
The requirement includes rentals for areas such as the multi-purpose room, gymnasium or the pool.
“Our rental agreement was updated post-pandemic and came into effect in 2022,” said Nina Robitaille, risk manager with the Wasaga Beach YMCA.
For both Simcoe County District School Board and the Simcoe Muskoka Catholic District School Board, facility rentals such as gyms in their schools require proof of a minimum of $2 million public liability insurance and must name the boards as an additional insurer.
For Town of Collingwood facilities, the town only requires third-party liability insurance for ice rentals, as it is perceived as a higher-risk rental according to town staff.
In the past couple of years, the town has increased its requirement to a minimum of $5 million of liability insurance, as they say they found insurance providers weren’t insuring for less.
Following inquiries from CollingwoodToday, Dean Collver, the town’s director, parks, recreation and culture said the town is now exploring how they can help ease the strain on single-use renters.
“Town staff are looking internally at opportunities to provide some relief for some low-risk insurance requirements. Hopefully by early next year, we’ll have a path forward,” said Collver.