A Broker Explains How a Real-Life Jurassic World Would Get Insurance Coverage

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Photo: Universal Pictures

Jurassic World’s central conceit — a theme park full of dinos — sure seems like the kind of thing that, in real life, would sell a lot of tickets. But given the likelihood of those same dinosaurs running loose and eating park-goers — well, that’s a bit of an insurance issue, isn’t it? 

Not really! It turns out that the folks behind an IRL Jurassic World could probably get a relatively decent coverage package, albeit a more expensive one than anything a real zoo or wildlife park would pay. That's according to Mitchel Kalmanson, president of the Lester Kalmanson Insurance Agency, Inc., a Florida-based insurance company that specializes in "rare and unusual risks" in the animal and entertainment worlds, working on coverage for movie animals, research labs, private collections, and large zoos.

Before even getting to the dinosaurs, Kalmanson says the park would have to get coverage for some standard theme-park risks: ride liability, in case anyone gets injured by a park vehicle; "trip and fall exposures" to cover anyone who gets hurt in a fall for whatever reason; food and concession liability in case anyone gets sick; and workers' comp and medical plans for all employees. Next up is making sure the animals are housed in a way that prevents them from getting out or tourists from getting into their enclosures. "If the animal is 20-feet tall, we may have to have a 30- or 50-foot wall," Kalmanson says. "We're going to make sure we have a lot of electric fencing, a lot of voltage to keep them from climbing or scaling the enclosure. We'll put some netting over it, so nobody can get in like that guy at the Bronx Zoo who jumped from the monorail into the tiger pit. Then maybe we'll put up some Lexan, a bulletproof glass that doesn't obstruct views, and people can't get over it." 

Then you're going to need contingency plans for when an animal escapes. The first step is to have a lot of the Chris Pratt types, animal experts who know how to handle the situation with minimal risk to civilians. As Kalmanson explains, "You have to have training for your staff for sedation or euthanasia, having the chemical immobilization training, dart guns on site with the proper tranquilizer. Then you also have containment areas, escape routes and escape areas for the public to go and wait."

As an underwriter, Kalmanson comes up with a "composite rate" based on how the facility is set up and the collection of animals, which are usually divided into classes based on threat levels. “Class 1 is your elephants, lions, tigers, bears, big primates,” he says. “Class 2 would be the smaller cats, desert cats, margays, servals, maybe cheetahs. Class 3 are all others. And then, of course, you have your venomous and nonvenomous animals, and then you have fishes and marine mammals, sharks, penguins, and all that." 

He also provides mortality insurance for animals based on species, rareness, ability to reproduce, prior medical conditions, etc. "If you've got a one-of-a-kind cloned dinosaur, how much money do you estimate you're going to generate off the gate?” Kalmanson wonders. “You don't want your animals getting killed by lightning, poison, natural causes, etc. For example, killer whales are in the $3-5 million range; Asian elephants are $1-3 million; gorillas, if you can get them, $500,000 to $1.5 million; and white tigers that can perform in acts are $15-35,000 each."

Jurassix World's gyrosphere ride, which you see in the image at the top of this page, is also problematic. "Nine times out of ten,” says Kalmanson, “when you’re at an amusement park you're with a trained guide who won't put you in harm's way. Some parks, like Disney, they'll take you in a Disneymobile so you're under their auspices and not allowed to drive freely. It's safer, it's controlled, and they know where the animals can go and can't go. From a Hollywood standpoint, [Jurassic World’s] spherical globes are great, but in reality, we wouldn't have them if an animal could smash it and grab the people inside."

Okay, but let’s say the worst happens and you’re at the park when there’s a stegosaurus stampede. What sort of payout might you be looking at? That depends on whether or not you suffered injuries. "We had an issue where a crane operator came into a zoo and damn if he didn't just put his hand in a cage to pet a tiger — off comes his thumb,” says Kalmanson. “You're talking hundreds of thousands of dollars for the pain of suffering and permanent injury. We had a monkey get hold of a kid once. There was a barrier fence but the mother decided to put the kid over the fence, so what's the kid going to do? Walk up to the monkey. What's the monkey going to do? Bite the shit out of the kid. Now the kid's scarred for life. That could be a $300-500,000 claim."

Injury payouts like those are calculated as a percentage of the coverage plan's limit. "Normally, in a death, you would get the full policy limit," Kalmanson says. "If you have $1 million in coverage and I've got a death in the family, I would demand $1 million."

With the risks involved, Kalmanson says he'd recommend the Jurassic World park have excess liability insurance, which is a secondary plan that offers higher payouts than the primary coverage plan, to cover extreme situations. "If we're dealing with dinosaurs, we're probably looking at 25, 50, up to $100 million limit of liability to protect the public. That's probably an $800,000 to $1.5 million annual premium. If you're building a park where lots of animals escaped in the past and killed people, they're paying a hell of a lot of premium with a huge deductible. It depends on the mitigating factors — could it have been prevented, was it human failure, was the fence not big enough? Historically, we would add on 25 to 75 percent surcharge to the premium. Or we might say, 'You take the first $5 million claim, and then we'll pick up anything over.'"

The lesson? To paraphrase the late John Hammond, if you must build a dinosaur theme park, spare no expense and cover your ass.