Extra insurance for adventure sports a good idea

Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

Speeding high over the Costa Rican jungle on a zip line sounded like a thrilling way for Jerry Shirley of Denver to see the lush tropical terrain around the coastal town of Jaco. All went well until he realized during his fifth ride that the leather gloves he was given to grip the cable were a sorry excuse for a braking system.

Unable to slow his rapid descent, Shirley slammed into an attendant and a tree at the bottom of the cable, shattering his left leg and ankle. It took three operations, 15 pins and screws and two plates to put Shirley’s leg together again.

The decision to ride the zip line aside, Shirley made at least one smart travel decision: Before leaving the U.S., he bought supplemental travel insurance, saving himself up to $2,000 in out-of-pocket expenses.

Shirley’s misadventure is a good reminder for all travelers to check their insurance policy before trying a high-risk sport or outdoor adventure trip. Here’s a look at what you should consider:

How do I know if my medical and life insurance policies cover my sport?

Most medical and life insurance policies have an exclusion clause that lists the high-risk sports that are not covered. The list of high-risk activities varies by provider and is based on actuarial numbers and accident statistics.

Motorcycling, sky diving, bungee jumping, whitewater rafting, parasailing and spelunking are among the activities that may not be covered. Check the exclusion clause on your policy.

What do I need to know about getting travel insurance for a high-risk adventure sport?

You don’t have to cancel your current policy just because it doesn’t cover your sport. You can buy supp- lemental coverage to add to your existing policy. You can buy year-round supplemental insurance or a short-term policy to cover the time you will be traveling.

What does insurance for high-risk activities cost?

The price for such policies varies, depending on your age and the amount of coverage and services you want.

For example, Travel Insurance Services Inc. offers the Voyager Annual Plan, which costs $218 a year for a person younger than 69.

The policy covers such activities as motorcycling, skiing and sky diving, and pays up to $10,000 in medical bills and up to $100,000 for medical evacuation costs per incident, among other services.

Are there any other ways to get coverage for high-risk activities?

If you participate in a professional or amateur competition, such as a mountain biking race, the organizers often carry insurance to cover all participants. To be safe, check with the organizer before participating in any race.

If I hire a professional guide to take me rock climbing, mountain biking or to take part in some other adventure sport, will the guide’s insurance pay if I get injured?

No. Guides for high-risk sports typically require that clients sign a liability waiver. Don’t expect the guide’s insurance to cover you.

If, however, the guide, through negligence or failure to act, causes your injury, you may be able to sue to recover your medical cost.

But don’t rely on that. Get the extra coverage before you leave home, and if something goes wrong, your insurance company can try to recover your medical costs from your negligent guide.

What do evacuation policies cost?

Birmingham, Ala.-based Medjet- Assist charges members younger than 75 an annual fee of $225. Members who are injured at least 150 miles from home will be evacuated from almost any airport in the world. MedjetAssist also offers short-term memberships, such as a seven-day deal for a one-time fee of $85.

Who sells policies for high-risk, outdoor adventurers?

Travel Insurance Services, which the Sierra Club recommends to its members: (800) 937-1387,

Adventure Advocates, a nonprofit membership organization: (800) 211-9002,

Global Travel Shield, underwritten by American Express: (800) 332-4899,

MedjetAssist, medical evacuations only: (800) 527-7478,