07/13/2005 11:00PM

Paralyzed rider's coverage: $50K


Charles Town Races in West Virginia, where Shannon Campbell, a 34-year-old apprentice, was paralyzed from the waist down in an accident on Saturday night, carries only $50,000 in accident insurance for jockeys, a spokesman for the company that owns the track said on Thursday.

Eric Schippers, the spokesman for Penn National Gaming Inc., said in a brief phone message that the track's accident coverage was $50,000 because the track "is not a member of the Thoroughbred Racing Associations," a racetrack trade group whose members carried at least $100,000 in accident insurance for jockeys last year. Many racetracks have since increased accident insurance to $1 million in response to a nationwide effort to cover riders more fully.

Campbell's situation underscores the continuing problem in arranging appropriate insurance coverage for catastrophic injuries, which typically require hundreds of thousands of dollars for treatment and subsequent therapy. Campbell's spinal cord was severed just above the waist after she was thrown from her mount in the first race at Charles Town on Saturday night. Her horse had clipped heels with another horse going into the first turn of a $5,000 maiden claiming race at 4 1/2 furlongs.

"This is a tragic incident, and our heart goes out to everyone involved," Schippers said in his phone message.

Campbell is married to an environmental specialist and has an 8-year-old daughter, according to Jodi Ramsburg, Campbell's agent.

Ramsburg said Thursday that Campbell had several individual insurance policies but that none would cover medical bills for accidents on the racetracks. She said that while the family does not yet know how much the medical bills will total, she was certain that any insurance coverage the family had would be inadequate.

"Anything and everything we can do to find money we are doing right now," Ramsburg said.

Ramsburg said that she has gathered information on setting up a tax-free charitable fund to raise money for Campbell's medical bills. In addition, a fund-raiser at a local bar and a raffle set up by backstretch employees are being planned.

Ramsburg said that neither she nor Campbell had explored purchasing catastrophic insurance policies before Campbell began her riding career in 2003.

"You never think about this kind of injury," Ramsburg said. "You just think about collarbones and things like that. You don't ever think of something catastrophic."

The Campbell injury is the second in a year in West Virginia in which a jockey has been partly paralyzed as a result of a racetrack accident. Last July, Gary Birzer was paralyzed from the waist down in an accident at Mountaineer Park.

The Birzer accident served as a catalyst for an industry debate over accident coverage at tracks. Birzer's family members said after the accident that they were unaware that the Jockeys' Guild, a national organization that provides group health insurance and other benefits to jockeys, had failed to renew a $1 million catastrophic injury policy at the end of 2002 that would have covered Birzer's accident.

The guild has pressed for increased accident coverage to be paid for by the racing industry since Birzer's accident and has contended that the guild could not afford to continue the catastrophic-injury policy at the time that it was allowed to lapse. In talks with a national task force that was assembled late last year to seek solutions to the insurance crisis, the guild refused to endorse any policy that would require jockeys to pay part of the costs of the increased coverage. Jockeys at two tracks staged walkouts over the issue last year.

Albert Fiss, the vice president of the guild, said on Thursday in Lexington, Ky., that the guild did not renew the policy because it did not adequately cover all jockeys. He said that the guild's ideal policy would cost $3 million to $4 million a year, but he also acknowledged that the policy that was not renewed - which cost $466,000 in 2002 - would have covered Campbell if it had been in place last week.

Fiss, who was attending a public hearing by the Kentucky Horse Racing Authority to address rider insurance issues, said he had been unaware that Charles Town carried only a $50,000 policy.

"You would think that West Virginia of all places, with what happened last year and the money coming from slots, would do the morally right thing," Fiss said. Both Charles Town Races and Mountaineer Park have slot machines.

Fiss said he was scheduled to meet with West Virginia Racing Commission officials on July 19 to begin laying the groundwork for a legislative solution to jockey insurance, possibly through a workers' compensation program.

Officials at Charles Town referred all questions to Schippers, who did not return a phone call on Thursday after leaving his earlier message. According to Tamara Cronin, a spokeswoman for Mountaineer Park, Mountaineer has not increased its accident coverage from the $100,000 policy in place last year. "We're exploring increasing it in 2006," Cronin said.