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Ways to minimize meeting liabilities.

Taking "reasonable care" of attendees.

Legal liability can arise in a number of ways at association events.

Personal injury liability. People who attend meetings and expositions are considered "business invitees" of the association. As such, they are owed a duty by the association to use "reasonable care" to ensure their safety. What this means, of course, depends on the specifics of the situation. The only absolute is that, in the case of a medical emergency, medical assistance must be called in a timely fashion.

Steps that ensure reasonable care of meeting attendees and minimize personal injury liability include:

* Tell convention staff how to respond to a medical emergency. Instruct them to look out for possible safety hazards and to report them as soon as possible.

* Direct staff not to provide direct medical assistance to an attendee; this should be left to the medical professionals. Providing medical assistance in a negligent manner can result in a lawsuit.

* Require a warranty by the facility that the premises are in safe condition and pose no present or latent dangers.

Often the association's liability extends beyond the leased area. The duty of care may extend to the entrance, the exits, and all other parts of the premises to which attendees might be led during the event. If the rest rooms, for example, have safety hazards, the association could be liable for personal injuries occurring there. You can, however, use your meeting contract to clarify which areas the facility is completely responsible for (sidewalks and parking lots, for example).

Generally, the condition of the premises is so important that responsibility for it cannot be delegated. Thus, an association may be liable for the negligence of an exhibitor. While the association cannot be expected to police the conduct of its exhibitors, it must exercise reasonable care to see that they do not act in a negligent manner. You should do the following:

* Tell exhibitors the safety rules of the exposition hall.

* Supervise the overall setup and operation of the exhibits. Watch for potential hazards.

Because of the potential liability of the association, you should always include an indemnification clause in contracts with exhibitors, obligating them to compensate the association for loss stemming from any exhibitor actions.

Liability for criminal acts. If a meeting attendee is criminally assaulted, the association may be sued along with the facility for failing to provide adequate security. To protect the association, take these steps:

* Clarify in the contract that the hotel or convention center is responsible for the security of the common areas (for example, stairwells and parking lots).

* If you hire a security firm for the areas the association is responsible for, include an indemnification clause in your contract with the firm.

Liquor liability. State laws vary on the issue of liquor liability, but an association that sponsors functions at which alcohol is served can expect to be a target of a lawsuit if an intoxicated guest is injured or injures someone else. Take the following steps to minimize liability:

* If an event is off-site, arrange transportation for guests to and from the event.

* Ask facility personnel to serve the alcohol at your functions. This action is prudent because, under some state laws, the alcohol server is ultimately responsible for guests.

* Keep the bar open for a defined period only; this prevents extended drinking.

* Serve food.

* Instruct staff not to drink and to keep an eye out for intoxicated guests.

* In your contract, require the facility to maintain liquor liability insurance and to name the association as an insured.

While the duty of associations to their meeting attendees is important, the association is not expected to insure attendees' safety. Rather, the association must be able to demonstrate that it exercised reasonable care. No matter how certain you are of your association's ability to provide such care, purchasing event insurance for the association is an absolute must.

George D. Webster is general counsel to ASAE and a partner in Webster, Chamberlain & Bean. This Washington, D.C., law firm is counsel to more than 200 nonprofit organizations.
COPYRIGHT 1993 American Society of Association Executives
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:Legal
Author:Webster, George D.
Publication:Association Management
Date:Sep 1, 1993
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