Keep special events "special"

Special events season is in full swing as communities highlight local attractions with parades, festivals, concerts and sports activities. While special events offer fun and an opportunity for the community to come together, they also create liability exposures that are often overlooked. Even if a municipality is not directly involved in staging the event, it may have liability exposure when public services, resources or property are used.

Local officials can minimize the risks by adopting a special events policy outlining what activities are allowed and whether the governmental entity's name can be used in promotions, what coverage and limits of insurance are required and type of services that can be provided by the municipality or the outside entity.

The city should also institute an application or permit process to help regulate and properly manage events sponsored by outside parties. Outside entities should complete a comprehensive special events application to ensure the event is safe and successful while having minimal impact on the city. The applicant should specify any service, material or property that he expects the municipality to provide.

A staff member (or committee) should coordinate the pre-event planning process and help departments identify risks, develop effective controls for managing the events and determine the event's impact on the municipality, residents and local businesses.

For each event, officials need to decide if the city will be a sponsor or cosponsor or not participate at all. If the municipality will sponsor or participate in the event, local officials should check the city's insurance coverage for the level of coverage provided and activities that may be excluded from coverage.

Insurance coverage
The city should require third parties, contractors and vendors to provide a certificate of insurance, name the city as an additional insured and sign a hold harmless and indemnity agreement to minimize the city's risk. The city should get the certificate directly from the insurance agent and ask him to list the date and location of the event and the service the vendor is contracted to provide. This should increase the chance that the insurance agent will notice if the activity is excluded from the policy. However, the only way to be certain the activity is covered is to request the entire policy and have your attorney review it.

Most public entities have liability coverage without a general exclusion for special events. Unless a particular activity is excluded, liability coverage will apply.

Common exclusions

  • Trampolines and rebounding equipment (including inflatable devices)
  • Temporary mechanical amusement devices
  • Traveling carnivals, circuses
  • Concerts promoted by outside parties
  • Rodeos
  • Automobile, motorcycle, watercraft racing or stunting
  • Fireworks displays

A city may be able to purchase special event coverage or hire an independent, insured contractor to conduct that operation to minimize liability for the municipality.

Municipalities should get waivers or pre-event releases from individuals participating in any sporting or participatory event such as marathons, bike races and parades.

Premises liability is the biggest exposure for the city. Officials need to conduct facility and site inspections before an event. Pre-event inspections can reveal problem areas that can be addressed before an injury or accident occurs.

For some events, organizers would like to have alcoholic beverages available. Municipal officials should never allow attendees to bring their own. Instead, contract with an experienced third party (restaurant, distributor, etc.) who already has the necessary permits, licenses, liquor liability insurance coverage and trained servers.

Food sales
Liability issues arising from food sales rarely occur as an isolated incident. Usually multiple people become ill. Vendors preparing and serving food need to get proper permits from the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control. In addition, they need appropriate insurance coverage that names the city as an additional insured.

Event-specific, written security and medical plans reviewed by the local law enforcement agency and medical service providers are essential. If using private security, require references and complete background checks.

Screen, train and supervise all volunteers to reduce the risk of negligence claims. Additional training and background checks may be required for volunteers working with children, handling money, traffic control and parking.

To learn more about minimizing special event liability, plan to attend the "Keep a Special Event "Special" by Avoiding Liability" session during the Association's Annual Meeting on Thursday, July 10, at 1:30 p.m. A defense attorney will discuss special events ordinances, ADA requirements, vendor contracts, alcohol sales and other risk management issues associated with holding special events.