Until somebody gets hurt

​A parade, festival, fair, outdoor concert or other public event can build community, boost the local economy and foster residents' attachment to their city.

But cities should plan ahead to control liability associated with activities that can draw crowds and involve out-of-the-ordinary risk exposures. Consider everything from ensuring that a road is adequately blocked off, if necessary, to adhering to requirements under the Americans with Disabilities Act, to screening volunteers for violent criminal histories and managing liability associated with the onsite consumption of alcohol.

It's also important to clearly establish the city's role in a public event.

Is the city managing the event by exercising primary control over staff or a hired contractor for event services? Is the city a sponsor of the event? Is an organization, such as a service/civic organization, working on behalf of the city? A city's liability associated with an event depends on where the city falls in terms of these roles.

These are just a few of the general guidelines cities should follow to keep event attendees, volunteers, vendors and the general public safe and to protect the city from liability exposure:

  • Develop a special events policy that outlines what activities are allowed, if or how the city's name will be used in promotions, what coverage and limits of insurance are required, and what services will be provided and required.
  • Have an application/permit process so the city can regulate and properly manage the event. Require all event organizers to complete an application regardless of the event size.
  • Have a special events committee or coordinator help the city identify risks, develop effective controls, and assess the potential impact on the city, residents and local businesses. Decide what resources, special services or manpower may be required.
  • Make sure the city has proper insurance. 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, which are contractual documents that hold one party harmless for the actions of another party. Get the certificate of insurance directly from the insurance agent and verify the coverage again the day before the event. Require a $1 million minimum for general liability insurance for businesses and organizations participating in the event.
  • Get a waiver or pre-event release from individuals participating in any sporting or participatory event, such as marathons, bike races and parades.
  • Conduct facility/site inspections before and after an event to mitigate premise liability claims. Prepare a site as though all events are sponsored by the city.
  • Respect attendees' First Amendment rights to express their opinions on politics, religion, current events or any topic in public places. Seek legal counsel before denying a particular group's request to participate in an event.

This information reflects a portion of the Special Events Liability Toolkit provided to members of the Municipal Association's Risk Management Services programs. For more information about the SC Municipal Insurance and Risk Financing Fund and the SC Municipal Insurance Trust, contact Heather Ricard, director of Risk Management Services, at or 803.933.1258.