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When a small sailing club in the Southern Region found itself being taken to court by a former member, the club committee discovered the value of the RYA Legal Advisory and Support Service.
“The support we received at such a difficult time was invaluable. We really made full use of our RYA affiliation, which we hadn’t done before,” the club commodore reported. “We approached the Legal Team looking for specific advice in relation to the court case and as a result of using the Legal Service we discovered a host of other benefits available to affiliated clubs”.
Facing a legal challenge
The club had been involved in an ongoing dispute with a member, which eventually culminated in a disciplinary hearing and the member’s dismissal. Following which the ex-member claimed that the club was in breach of contract, accusing it of neglecting to follow its own procedures as set out in its Constitution and the rules of natural justice (i.e. an individual’s right to know of the case against him and to defend his position and to have an unbiased panel conducting the hearing). The ex-member subsequently issued legal proceedings in the County Court for breach of contract.
Calling for advice
Like many other clubs facing a similar situation, the committee had reservations about being involved in a court dispute. There were many considerations, including the potential exposure of the committee to a personal liability and the strain it would place on day to day running of the club.
“At the outset it was necessary for us to deal with the matter on the basis we might not be covered by legal expenses insurance, because if it was found we were negligent in any way and didn’t have a 50% or more chance of success, our legal expenses insurers would not have covered our legal costs. So it was potentially a huge risk for the club,” said the commodore. “A lot of clubs are likely to settle in such situations because of financial risks to the club and the strain that dealing with such disputes places on the committee and you can’t really blame them. In the end, because we felt strongly that we had acted in accordance with our Constitution and the rules of natural justice we decided we should defend the court action.”
He commented that Club Zone, the area of the RYA website devoted to legal resources for clubs, sport development and RYA programmes for affiliated clubs, was a great help. The club also spoke with RYA Legal Manager Mandy Peters over the telephone on numerous occasions during the course of the dispute.
The Commodore said: “After speaking with Mandy we reviewed Constitution and internal processes to ensure they were adequate. Not only did we receive expert legal advice but the objective opinion of someone who was independent of the dispute was invaluable. It took someone on the outside to provide the reassurance we needed that our Constitution was legal and that we had correctly followed our own procedures and the rules of natural justice. Being able to discuss the issues with Mandy gave us confidence and we felt that the advice from the RYA legal team added more weight to our argument.”
The case went to court where the Judge dismissed the ex-member’s claim and awarded the club its costs i.e. the ex-member was obliged to pay the club’s legal costs.
As a result of the club engaging with the Legal Team on this issue it now connects with the RYA more extensively, making use of the numerous benefits of affiliation, including affiliate conferences and regional roadshows.
- Ensure you take out legal expenses insurance and that it is for an adequate sum. When anyone is involved in a court case the legal costs can very quickly and easily spiral. Had we not had adequate legal expenses cover, the court claim could have cost the club dearly. If the club hadn’t had legal expenses insurance, arguably it would not have been able to defend the claim without putting the club and committee at risk.
- Whilst this is not an insurance issue as such, it is important to ensure your club has generic email addresses e.g. commodore@ membershipsecretary@, as some of the problems experienced at our club arose as a result of sending emails to the wrong person.
- Involve and update all committee members, ensure you are transparent with your committee and with the individual concerned. However, do recognise that the individual is entitled to confidentiality so therefore ensure discussions within committee are kept confidential.
- Trust in your own conviction and challenge behaviour which breaches club rules.
- Recognise that within the club environment you will be engaging with people from all walks of life. Treat everyone with respect and put personal feelings to one side as it is easy to get caught up emotionally when you care about your club.
- Be mindful of the stress that your committee members may encounter as a result of dealing such issues and support them.
- Take advantage of the free RYA Affiliated Club Conferences to learn more about the RYA services that are available and how these services can benefit your club and members
RYA’s endorsed Club Insurance providers Gallagher are able to provide your organisation with Commercial Legal Expenses Insurance upon request. In summary, the key benefits of this valuable additional cover are:
- Employment Disputes and Compensation Awards
- Contract Disputes
- Legal Defence
- Statutory Licence Appeal
- Debt Recovery
- Property Protection
- Tax Protection
For more information in respect of Legal Expenses Insurance, please contact the dedicated RYA team at Gallagher on 0800 062 2309 or by email - firstname.lastname@example.org
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