CAVE CREEK, Ariz. » As Hemingway pointed out, sprinting ahead of a herd of snarling bulls certainly makes the heart beat faster. But so does what one must do before an American-style running of the bulls begins: sign an extremely comprehensive liability waiver.
Phil Immordino, who organized three bull runs in Nevada and Arizona a decade ago modeled on Spain’s famous running of the bulls in Pamplona, took a hiatus after insurance costs rose so high that he could not turn a profit. But he is back at it this month in Cave Creek, a Western-style town north of Phoenix.
Immordino expects hundreds of runners to sprint along a quarter-mile track while being pursued by dozens of 1,500-pound rodeo bulls with names like Blood Money and Dooms Day. Also expected are animal rights activists, who take a dim view of an event they find cruel on its face.
Before anyone runs though, he or she is required to sign, and then sign some more.
"We have a seven-page waiver, and they need to initial every paragraph and every page," said Immordino, a Phoenix native who also organizes golf tournaments. "It says you, your neighbor, your cousin and your cousin’s brother can’t sue anybody about any of this."
Immordino said he and others involved in the run had plenty of insurance in case anything went awry. He has $1 million in coverage for the event, he said, and the owner of the private land where he will run the bulls has another million. The owner of the bulls has additional insurance, and the landowner has liability insurance on his property as well, he added. Just in case, there will be paramedics and rodeo clowns at the ready, and escape routes are in place along the route to allow runners to veer away from bulls who get too close.
Town officials had initially approved a special-event permit allowing Immordino to move forward with the running, so long as he came up with $5 million in insurance. That figure was lowered to $3 million. When the town and the promoter could not reach agreement on the level of insurance coverage, Cave Creek withdrew the permit but allowed the spectacle to go ahead on private property and told Immordino that he would be liable should anything occur.
"I think whenever you mix bulls and humans in this kind of setting we have enough evidence from Spain that there can be problems," said Vincent Franzia, Cave Creek’s mayor. "I will hold my breath until it’s over."
Organizers are more optimistic.
"We’re covered," said Immordino, who is busy preparing the bull run, which will begin Oct. 14 and continue through Oct. 16. "We’ve never even had a sniff of a claim against us."
That is not to say there have not been problems in his three previous efforts to bring a Spanish tradition that goes back centuries to the American West.
Immordino was arrested in 1998 after he failed to get proper permission to hold a bull run in northwestern Arizona, just across the Nevada line. In 1999, heavy rain kept crowds away from a bull run in Mesquite, Nev. In 2002, in Scottsdale, Immordino slipped while climbing on a roof to get a better view of the bulls. He was hospitalized and missed much of the action.
Actual participants have fared better. Nobody has been gored, although video of the 2002 run shows one runner crumpled in the dirt with his arms over his head as bulls jump over him.
Immordino said that the bulls he uses were less aggressive and have duller horns than the ones that run along the cobblestone streets of Pamplona, where the running of the bulls was immortalized by Ernest Hemingway in "The Sun Also Rises."
The Cave Creek event, for which participants will be charged $25, has raised the ire of animal rights activists despite assurances that the bulls will not be killed as they are during Pamplona’s weeklong San Fermin festival.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals has called the bull run both cruel and unsafe.
"We are urging the public to exercise a little compassion and boycott the event," said Delcianna Winder, a PETA activist who helps organize an annual event in New Orleans in which a roller-derby team chases runners through the French Quarter, without any bulls involved.
Organizers describe the bull run in their promotional materials as "the thrill of a lifetime" and "better than drugs." The liability waiver, however, is more circumspect: "This activity and your participation in that activity can cause serious injury or even death, and you hereby agree to assume all risks related thereto."
Immordino acknowledged the inherently perilous nature of his bull run, which he likens to an extreme sport.
"Absolutely, it’s dangerous," he said. "But at the same time, it’s not as dangerous as Spain."