By now, most cities' special events are in full swing. While they are the cornerstone for recreation in municipalities, special events pose a variety of risks. From parades to fairs, municipal officials are tasked with keeping the city's resources, staff and residents safe.

Special events can range from parades, festivals, celebrations, firework displays to fairs and participation in spectator sports. Risk coordinators and key municipal staff should start special events planning far in advance. Key stakeholders should meet to determine the types of special events that occur within the city. Also, city officials should consider designating one person to serve as a coordinator of all special event activities.

Because of their variety, size and uniqueness, special events create a number of risk exposures that must be addressed to ensure event success. To protect the general public and the entity's assets against accidental loss, four basic questions need to be answered.

  1. What can go wrong?
  2. What can we do to prevent something from going wrong?
  3. How do we respond if something does go wrong?
  4. If something goes wrong, how will the entity pay for it?

Draft a special events policy and have it reviewed by the city attorney to mitigate risk for the city. The policy should also determine what justifies the special event and outline the role of the entity. All third parties requesting use of city property should complete an application so the city can regulate and properly manage the event.

It is important for city officials to review and be familiar with the exclusions in their liability coverage policy. Most liability insurance policies have special-event exclusions.

Examples of excluded activities

  • Bungee jumping of any kind and similar amusement devices
  • Fireworks displays
  • Skateboarding
  • Parachuting and hang gliding
  • Airplane, helicopter or ballooning rides and shows
  • Archery
  • Mechanical amusement devices
  • Zoos
  • Traveling carnivals, circuses
  • Rodeos
  • Trampolines and rebounding equipment (bounce houses)
  • Concerts organized and promoted by outside third parties

One other way to limit liability is to consider hiring an event coordinator or contractor to host the special event.

Be cautious not to have too much control over the independent contractor and negate the independent relationship. Remember to get a copy of an organization's or contractor's policy before the event to verify the offered activities are covered and not excluded from the policy.

Bounce houses, zoos and amusement rides are attractive to young children, but the enjoyment does not come without risk to the city. In May 2014, two kindergarten boys in New York were seriously injured when a gust of wind blew an inflatable bounce house into the air with three children inside. The wind blew the house more than 50 feet in the air. The boys fell from more than 15 feet to the ground.

For additional information on special events, log in online, enter Risk Manual into the search bar, click on Risk Manual, then select the Special Events – Chapter 10 icon. For coverage information, contact Leigh Stoner, underwriting manager, at or 803.354.4752.