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In depth

Interview with Joe Hassinger, President, International Amusement & Leisure Defense Association

By Chad Emerson.

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An experienced litigator who protects and defends the Louisiana amusement, recreation, entertainment and leisure industries, Joe Hassinger (above left) has litigated cases in state and federal courts across the state.  As President of the International Amusement & Leisure Defense Association (IALDA), he is a frequent speaker and instructor in seminars at safety conferences and conventions hosted by AIMS, IAAPA, BPAA and RSA. He talks to Blooloop's Chad Emerson about the association's work.
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Blooloop:  How did you get started with representing amusement industry clients?

Joe Hassinger: I had worked at a local skating rink for several years as a teen and young adult, and after graduating from law school in 1992, a local rink owner, Bob Jean, recommended me to his insurer. Bob put me in touch with Doug Flora at Haas & Wilkerson, who then suggested that I become active in IALDA.  I attended the next RSA conference, introduced myself to Lary Zucker, one of IALDA’s founding members and, as they say, the rest is history. Since then, I have had the privilege of working with true leaders in the amusement, recreation and leisure industries – and it’s been a fantastic ride.

Blooloop:  What have been some of the more challenging legal issues that you’ve handled while working in the industry?

Hassinger: At IALDA we spend a great deal of time and effort reinforcing the policies and practices that promote safety. And there are really two aspects to that.  For our industry members, it includes emphasizing the need for consistent and comprehensive practices that create and maintain a culture of safety.  For guests who enjoy the industry, it includes reminding them that safety is a shared responsibility.  While operators can and must implement reasonable accident prevention and response procedures, patrons must also exercise reasonable care.  That includes knowing and abiding by park safety rules, avoiding horseplay, supervising one’s children and remaining prudent. So there are two key factors to the safety equation, and most legal issues arise when one or both factors in the equation falter.

BlooLoop:   Looking forward, what are several legal issues that you think will be very important to the industry in the next year or so?

Hassinger:  An important component of this industry is the dynamic between industry guidelines and practices on the one hand – those published by ASTM for example – and the efforts made by various state legislative and regulatory bodies to enact rules and regulations that they believe best serve the citizens of their state, on the other.  I expect that dynamic to continue in the years to come. And while I certainly do not see state regulation and oversight as hindering the industry’s success, organizations like IALDA, IAAPA, WWA and the various regional amusement associations must remain engaged at the forefront of these issues to ensure that the industry can operate according to clear, consistent and fair rules that effectively enhance safety.

Blooloop:  What about from the regulatory side of things.  What are some key federal issues facing the industry?

Hassinger: ASTM has done an extraordinary job of crafting effective safety guidelines that serve the industry well. As such, I do not expect that in the near future federal officials will pass legislation that federalizes safety measures in the amusement industry.  I do, however, believe that ADA and OSHA regulations and enforcement will continue to be at the forefront of federal efforts. And, by the way, in my estimation, industry leaders have done an excellent job addressing accessibility and worker safety issues, such that the amusement industry should be lauded for its work in these areas.

Additionally, we know that well-intentioned federal legislation can result in significant challenges for industry. For example, the Virginia Graeme Baker Pool & Spa Safety Act, while praiseworthy in purpose, presented very real logistical challenges in terms of timeline, availability and feasibility of products, and potential substantial fines for untimely compliance. We must remain proactive and engaged on all safety and regulatory issues that affect the industry so that we are prepared to work with regulators to address such issues.

I will also mention that the CPSC recently kicked off its Pool Safety campaign, a national public education effort to reduce child drownings and non-fatal submersions, and entrapments in swimming pools and spas. More information on that is available at  www.cpsc.gov.

Blooloop:  Share with us some of the services that IALDA provides for its members and the industry as a whole.

Hassinger: I am proud to say that over the past several years IALDA has become recognized as a group of dedicated operators, insurance professionals and defense counsel who work together to protect and defend the amusement, recreation and leisure industries. IALDA members have contributed countless hours and selfless effort to enhance safety, reduce the frequency and severity of claims, and ensure that operators are in a very strong position to defend themselves in litigation.  One way we do this is by presenting seminars – at our own cost – as part of industry conferences such as IAAPA, WWA, AIMS, RSA, BPAA and others, on topics such as incident investigation, safety procedures, industry standards and litigation.  The response from industry members is consistently positive.  And knowing that operators incorporate our advice into their operations is quite gratifying. A second way that we accomplish our mission is by sharing with our membership and industry members from coast to coast and beyond, information on legal issues, safety trends and experts, which results in more streamlined litigation, reduced litigation costs, and consistent effective management of claims and litigation. It is truly a privilege to serve the industry in this way.

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