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Florida’s skating rinks look for insurance relief from Legislature

Families spend the evening roller skating at Skate A Way South in Ocala, Fla. on April 30, 2023. (Brooke Johnson/ Fresh Take Florida)
Families spend the evening roller skating at Skate A Way South in Ocala, Fla. on April 30, 2023. (Brooke Johnson/ Fresh Take Florida)

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Shredding on a roller skating rink might seem like a thing of the past, but the estimated 37 rinks surviving in Florida say their businesses are at the mercy of insurance companies and liability lawsuits. They found allies in the Legislature.

The House voted 117-0 on Tuesday – after the Senate passed the bill last week – on a measure that would require consumers to accept “inherent risks” that come with roller skating. The bill was expected to be sent to Gov. Ron DeSantis to sign into law.

The effort was the latest in Florida to limit damages that can be recovered in liability lawsuits, which Republican lawmakers said makes the state a better environment for businesses.

The bill would shield rinks from some liability lawsuits that do not accuse the location and staff of gross negligence.To qualify for the protections, rink operators would need to maintain floors, lights, walls and rental equipment properly. Similar legislation exists in 11 other states.

Most civil lawsuits against skating rinks stem from injuries that accuse operators of negligent care of equipment, poor lighting or slip-and-falls on unmarked stairs. The bill is intended to protect owners in cases stemming from other skaters or falls.

Chanel Bellotto, owner of Lakeland Skate World Inc., said liability insurance premiums in Florida are 30% to 40% more than in other states. The legislation would lower insurance costs by reducing the number of frivolous claims against skating rinks, she said.

Bellotto testified during a legislative hearing about the proposals, sponsored by Rep. Susan Plasencia, R-Winter Park, and Sen. Clay Yarborough, R-Jacksonville.

“It’s about fighting for the little guy,” Plasencia said to lawmakers on the House Judiciary Committee earlier this month. “If you go to a skating rink and you choose to put wheels on the bottom of your feet, and you fall, through no fault of the skating rink, that is the risk you have taken.”

During the hearing, Rep. Yvonne Hinson, D-Gainesville, said she wondered whether a broader bill defining risk, liability and negligence across a bigger variety of businesses might be a better approach, but she voted for the skating bill. 

In the 1970s, Florida once boasted its 130 roller skating rinks as family-friendly locations. Now, there are only 37 in the state, according to Bellotto. Atlantis Skateway, the last roller skating rink in Palm Beach County, closed its doors in 2022, blaming insurance rates and the pandemic. That location will become Astro Skate of Palm Beach, owned by Chris Maganias.

Maganias, who owns seven rinks across Florida, said every business he has purchased was closed or ready to close due to increasing insurance premiums. He said a protective bill shielding his business from lawsuits would help.

“It’s not like we’re a dentists’ office,” Maganias said. “Everyone loves skating.”

Maganias said his insurance in the 1990s was around $6,000 per location – or around $14,000 adjusted for inflation. He said his new insurance rate last month was $47,000, which he blamed on what he said were 61 lawsuits he was facing.

“If you had 60 lawsuits against you, you’d be nervous too,” Maganias said. 

Skaters at his businesses are required to sign a waiver assuming the risk of injury or death while skating, even due to negligence. 

Florida law requires consumers to accept inherent risks when they engage in agritourism, spaceflight and horse riding, making it more difficult to sue businesses in cases where individuals are injured. When a skating area is available in a public park, Florida also provides protections for local governments.


This story was produced by Fresh Take Florida, a news service of the University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications. The reporter can be reached at sandra.mcdonald@freshtakeflorida.com. You can donate to support our students here.

Sandra is a reporter for WUFT News who can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.