Official Opinion 95-32
Georgia State Games Commission
You have asked whether the Georgia State Games Commission's ("Commission") express power to procure insurance for "participants in its programs" can be construed to allow the Commission to procure insurance for sponsors. O.C.G.A. § 50-12-44.
In construing statutory enactments in Georgia, the first rule is to ascertain the legislative intent and purpose in enacting the law and to give the statute that construction which will effectuate that legislative intent and purpose. O.C.G.A. § 1-3-1(a); Hollowell v. Jove, 247 Ga. 678 (1981). The Commission's legislation states that its purpose is to protect and improve the physical fitness of the residents of the state. O.C.G.A. § 50-12-41(a). In addition, it states that the Commission's purpose is to promote the health and physical fitness of citizens of Georgia and to promote participation in amateur sports. O.C.G.A. § 50-12-42. Thus, the statutory enactment at issue must be construed to effectuate these intents and purposes.
A second rule of construction in Georgia is that the ordinary significance shall be applied to all words, except words of art or words connected with a particular trade or subject matter. O.C.G.A. § 1-3-1(b). A "participant" is defined as one who takes part in something. American Heritage Dictionary 995 (3rd ed. 1993).
Because this definition is ambiguous, it is helpful to look at various courts' interpretations of the word "participant." While I found no Georgia cases construing the word or any form thereof, other courts have first held that since "participating" may denote either an active or passive sharetaking, the meaning of the word is ambiguous. See, e.g., Spiers v. Lane, 278 So. 2d 549, 555 (La. Ct. App. 1973) ("participants" as used herein is not perfectly clear in meaning); Black Hills Kennel Club, Inc. v. Fireman's Fund Indem. Co., 94 N.W.2d 90 (S.D. 1959).
Second, most courts interpreting the word "participant" in the context of a sporting event have held that some type of active participation in the sporting event itself is required to qualify as a participant. See Hockey Club of Saginaw, Inc. v. Insurance Co. of N. Am., 468 F. Supp. 101, 102 (E.D. Mich. 1979) (a person who is merely a spectator or an employee working in connection with the holding of the game or contest is not a "participant" in such games or contests); Spiers, 278 So. 2d at 555 (person injured while waiting for his racing vehicle to be returned to the track so he could resume participation in the race was held to be excluded from a liability policy excluding all "participants"); Black Hills Kennel Club, 94 N.W.2d at 93 (boy prompted by insured owner of a race track standing at the finish line of the track shouting encouragement to his dog to run was held to be "participating in any contest" and thus within the exclusion of an insurance policy); Marshall v. Town of Brattleboro, 160 A.2d 762, 765 (Vt. 1960) (skier being transferred on a mechanical ski tow who is injured through the operation of the tow is not so participating in the sport of skiing as to be subject to the one year statute of limitations for "participating" in the sport of skiing). Note that while many of these cases involve construction of an actual insurance provision where different rules of construction apply, the courts' analysis is still helpful.
Finally, a statute must be viewed so as to harmonize all of its parts and to give a sensible and intelligent effect to each
part. Osborn v. State, 161 Ga. App. 132 (1982). The term "participants," or any variation thereof, appears in only one other place in the Commission's legislation. Georgia Code Section 50-12-42 states that a purpose of the Commission is to "promote participation in amateur sports by citizens of all ages and skill levels." (Emphasis added.) Thus the term "participation" in that context, similar to the Marshall case, seems to refer to those actively participating in a sport.
Furthermore, the statutory enactment in question only allows the procurement of insurance for participants in its "programs." Georgia Code Section 50-12-42(3) states that the purpose of this article is to promote a state wide "program" of amateur athletic competition. Thus, it seems the term "program," as used in the Commission's legislation, refers only to the competitors in the athletic events.
Therefore, based on the above, it is my official opinion that the statutory phrase "to procure insurance coverage for participants in its programs," found in O.C.G.A. § 50-12-44, grants the Commission the power to procure insurance only for those actively taking part in the athletic competition, and thus, the Commission has no power to procure insurance for its sponsors.
CHERYL A. JANSON
Assistant Attorney General