03/03/2015 11:25AM

Parx jockeys must sign waiver to be insured

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Jockeys at Parx racetrack near Philadelphia have been told that they will not be covered by the track’s new insurance policy as of March 19 if the riders do not sign an indemnity waiver acknowledging the risks of riding horses at the track, according to riders and copies of the letters distributed to the jockeys.

Parx riders and their legal representatives were scheduled to meet with track officials Tuesday morning to discuss the situation, according to Tony Black, a representative of riders at Parx. The Jockeys’ Guild was also expected to send legal representatives to the meeting, Black said.

Late last year, Parx told riders that they would not be allowed to ride at the track unless they signed a waiver similar to the one distributed in the past week. The new letter claims that riders will be allowed to ride past March 18, but they will not be covered under an insurance policy that goes into effect on March 19 providing for $1 million in coverage for medical bills and $200,000 in coverage for accidental death or dismemberment if they do not sign the letters agreeing to participate in the plan and indemnifying the track.

Black said on Tuesday morning that riders are philosophically opposed to signing the waiver.

“[Parx is] doing everything they can to eliminate their own liability instead of making a commitment to a safer work environment,” Black said.

Last year, a Pennsylvania jury awarded the family of an exercise rider who was killed at Parx in 2008 with an $8 million judgment. Parx, which operates the largest casino in the Philadelphia area, has appealed the ruling. The horse whom the exercise rider was riding was allegedly spooked by nearby chickens that were being kept on the backside.

Chris Scherf, the executive vice president of the Thoroughbred Racing Associations, a racetrack trade group, said on Monday that it is unusual for a track to seek a waiver from jockeys except in states where riders are covered by workers’ compensation policies. In those cases, tracks in workers’ compensation states frequently purchase an additional catastrophic-injury policy covering riders, and those plans are usually accompanied by a liability waiver, Scherf said.

Most racetracks in the U.S. carry insurance policies covering riders, who are legally considered independent contractors. The issue of which party is responsible for insurance coverage at racetracks has led to dozens of disputes between tracks and riders over the last two decades.

Although private companies can require people to sign liability waivers, courts have generally upheld that the waivers do not extend to gross negligence by the company.