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A risk management primer for event planners



Every festival and event planner should have a basic knowledge of insurance issues affecting him or her. These issues become even more important as other organizations approach risk management more assertively.

Here's a rundown of some of the tools necessary to secure a successful future for your festival or event.

Certificates of Insurance

A certificate of insurance or "cert" is a standard document in the world of insurance that confirms the insured is indeed insured, for how much, by whom, and for how long. Its purpose is to confirm to you that a second party has insurance to protect your from unnecessary involvement in a suit for which that second party should have taken full responsibility.

Your certificates

Festival and event planners often must use facilities and premises owned by others who demand certificates and often ask to be named as "additional insureds." Some insurance companies provide certs typically on a gratis basis; other insurers often charge $10-$25 per cert, which for some clients can become a major expense. Ask your broker or account executive for procedures to follow. The "additional insured" courtesy means that the entity specified will be defended by your policy if brought into a suit that relates to the operations being insured. This is a normal concession, provided that the entity has a functional relationship with your operations during the period of exposure for which the cert was requested, and that it is only valid with regard to the responsibilities of the insured.

Certificates of others

First, insure that second parties, to whose risks you are exposed, have coverage of at least $1,000,000 per occurrence; if athletes are involved, participant legal liability coverage is needed as well. Second, ask to be named as an additional insured on their policies for this function. Third, respect that this document only certifies the coverage shown on the date the certificate was issued. The client may have subsequently canceled coverage, had their policy canceled by the carrier, or exhausted their aggregate limits for that policy period (which means "there just ain't no more left" to pay a claim due to prior claims that reached those limits).

Participant Waivers and Releases in Festivals and Events

Waivers, releases and minor release forms, properly prepared and obtained, are invaluable to festival and event planners. They indicate that to participate is a conscious voluntary decision and have been successful under particular legal conditions in obtaining summary judgments for the defense. Typically required as a condition of sport liability insurance coverage, these forms may also be helpful in other contexts having restricted areas.

A waiver or release obtains an acknowledgment that participation involves a risk of injury, even catastrophic injury, and that the participant accepts that risk. By signing, participants "waive" their right to sue should an injury occur, and thereby "release" the sponsor and its agents from liability for any such injury that should occur. A parent or guardian must sign a minor's release if the participant is not of legal age.

Form and Content

Even the most properly prepared waivers are no guarantee of a summary judgment, but waivers that are not properly prepared almost guarantee judicial rejection. Ultimately, the Insured should rely on their own insurance and legal counsel when preparing waivers for actual use.

Guidelines for preparing successful waivers

  • Use a type size of at least 10 point.
  • Keep form to one sheet and to that single purpose.
  • Keep wording as clear as possible.
  • Make it clear that the signing participant understand and accepts that the risk of serious injury exists, "including both known and unknown risks."
  • Put all phrasings in first person ("I acknowledge…I accept").
  • Specify that waiver also applies to "acts of negligence to the fullest extent permitted by law."
  • Include specific risks only if they are unusual and relevant. Don't include a list specifying all risks that could occur.
  • Have the release of the insured (and all who act for the insured) be on behalf of his/her heirs, assigns, and next of kin.
  • Have minor participant sign prior to the paragraph for parent or guardian (to document the minor's own assumption of risk).
  • Have parent/guardian release and indemnify the insured et al as well as agree to he participation of their minor child.
  • The title should be bold, large, and obvious that this is a waiver of important rights, and the form, content, and process should make it clear that the participant could have read it and understood it prior to signing it.
  • Use it, keep it, but don't rely on it.
  • Share it with your insurance company's underwriters for review.
  • Remember that waivers and releases are not substitutes for good loss control procedures.

    Policy secures directors

    Festivals face an increased risk of lawsuits each year. Planners must take steps to understand and protect their events against potential losses, said Steven Wood Schmader, CFE, president of the Boise River Festival.

    "You can't take the risk of being unprotected," he said. "In this day and age, unfortunately, people are sue-happy."


    Author: Dale Johnson  

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