Blog #2 is relevant to an issue that we tackle with in the events industry regularly. Liability and what does that mean? Negligence and who’s at fault? Food poisoning, drinking and driving, power failures, equipment breakage, life and death, and more.
I taught a course last year called Event Risk Management, ask my former students, and they will tell you how serious I am on the subject of event liability.
First off, what does this even mean? I am not a lawyer, but some say I should have been. And I assure you, I am not talking about this from the perspective of the actual law, precedence, or any other legal terms you can think of. I am an event planner, and what I do know is that first and foremost we have a responsibility for the safety and security of every guest and patron at every event we are involved in. If a guest gets sick, injured or dies at one of your events, you will be part of the legal claim process. You will be examined and blamed if you acted negligently.
What is negligence? It is defined as: failure to use reasonable care, resulting in damage or injury to another. What is gross negligence? Gross negligence is a conscious and voluntary disregard of the need to use reasonable care, which is likely to cause foreseeable grave injury or harm to persons, property, or both. It is conduct that is extreme when compared with ordinary.
If you are an event planner, and you hire a lighting company. Negligence would be that you didn’t check to see if the lighting company uses proper rigging equipment. Gross negligence is knowing that the rigging equipment isn’t to code, and you agree to use it anyways.
Event planners don’t just pick flowers and what charger goes with which centerpiece. (Or at least the good ones don’t) We need to make sure all the suppliers and vendors are insured, validated, have a good safety history, and we monitor their installation to make sure it is safe and properly installed. We must take into consideration that weight loads, electrical safety, food cleanliness, security measures and a whole host of other safety and security measures and protocols are managed and respected. We have seen disastrous footage of collapsed stages, venues on fire, fights, riots, bomb threats, drunk driving deaths, mass food sickness, and more. The event planner is the leader, and therefore the first to be questioned and deemed responsible on the event. As they say they buck stops here.
All event planners MUST carry liability insurance. If they don’t… DON’T hire them! Even if they convince you that their vendors carry insurance and they are covered under their insurance, this isn’t prudent, safe or true. If they act negligently, they better be covered. But just know, if the act in gross negligence, insurance is irrelevant, they will be faced with a personal crime. Would you go to a doctor that isn’t insured and licensed? Then don’t hire an event planner that isn’t insured either.
Not all incidents are life and death though. Some are incidents which to the client may be damaging or harmful, and the question then becomes who is responsible? What if a caterer serves a meal, and the client doesn’t like the taste of the food, and doesn’t want to pay. Is this reasonable? Is the caterer liable for personal preferences and taste? What are the guidelines, who decides what is damaging, negligent or legitimate?
We have a policy, and it is one that we cannot be flexible on in any circumstance, and let me explain what it is and why. We demand a 50% deposit upon signing of our contract, and this is so we have the funds to be able to secure all of the products and vendors needed for your event. Then we demand that the balance be paid the day of the event, after set-up is complete, but before the event begins. And this is to ensure that the client doesn’t use the balance as a bargaining tool for whatever reasons they deem. Most clients are very fair, and their intentions are good. They will pay for their event happily, and most do so and say thank you. But there is a minority that will use whatever excuse possible to not pay, or to get a credit. Therefore, we need to be paid in full, otherwise we have little recourse in collecting the outstanding debt. I believe that a client’s intentions are good, and that they are hiring us out of trust to deliver a great event, then they shouldn’t hesitate in paying for it. And they should trust that if something legitimately goes wrong, and they are deserving of a refund, that we will give that refund based on that same trust and intent of doing fair business.
So that leads me to a recent incident that is a contested issue in the industry. Ask any rental company their opinion on this, and they will tell you unanimously where they stand on their extent of liability. Let’s say you rent an oven, and it doesn’t work and therefore all of the food at the event is cold, and the client demands a full refund for the food at the event. Is the rental company responsible for this damage? Is the caterer responsible? So the question then comes down to negligence and responsibility. Here’s what I mean. Did the caterer check that the oven worked upon arrival, did the caterer give the rental company sufficient time to replace or fix the oven? Did the oven not work because of a power issue, that it wasn’t set up correctly, or that there was no propane in the tank? Or did the rental company know there was an issue with this oven, but sent it out anyways? Was there a history of failure with this piece of equipment, but the rental company did not take the appropriate measures to fix it and/or not send it out? That’s the difference between negligence on behalf of the caterer or the rental company. And in both cases it’s very hard to prove who in fact is responsible.
We recently had a case where a bar we rented collapsed at an event. The collapse was caused due to poor design of the bar, there was a known history of the bar collapsing and the rental company had sufficient time to repair the problem, but didn’t, and the collapse was a direct result in lost alcohol, embarrassment from the bar service to the client, and loss of time in service while trying to repair the bar and replace the lost product. Also, keep in mind that the rental company assured us that the problem was resolved. Well this collapse was in fact a case of gross negligence on behalf of the company. Even though the rental rate of the bar was $300.00 or so, the cost of damages was over $4000.00 in damages to the client in the form of credits. The rental company claimed that their extent of damages is the actual cost of the bar rental, whereby we claimed that the damages were a direct result of their gross negligence, and therefore greater than just the rental rate. In court, it was in fact confirmed that the rental company was responsible for the damages.
As a side note, it’s a shame the rental company wasn’t willing to own up to their faults, and accept the incident for what it was. This caused years of lost business, and bad sentiments in a small events industry, for nothing. I do hope that we can move past this one day and repair the relationship, once they realize that we weren’t trying to take advantage of a situation. based on rumors and falsehoods that they received from third parties.
This is a fairly small incident, and did escalate to a bigger issue. What if this equipment failure happened to land on a person and break their leg? What would this look like then, would the $4000.00 credit be the issue or something much greater and more serious? Also, if this would happen in the US, being the litigious society that they are, would be a lot more expensive and serious.
Remember, all planners, vendors, suppliers, venues and other services or products must be properly insured and licensed. Knowledgeable and experienced professionals are more than worth the price tag they come with. You may be able to save a few hundred dollars, but I assure you if something goes wrong, you will regret it forever.
For the event planners out there, get insurance no matter the cost (either on a per event basis or annually) and make sure all your vendors have up-to-date insurance. Take the time to learn the safety protocols associated with each vendor, whether production or food, alcohol safety or security and fire prevention. Work with the professionals (fire marshals, police chiefs, security professionals, medical professionals, engineers, electricians, riggers, etc.) and remember, their word is law, even if it interferes in your schedule or design.
And a final word on the subject. Alcohol. You have a responsibility to make sure your guests get home safe. Cutting off someone who has clearly passed the point of reasonable intoxication is your responsibility and doesn’t make you the party killer. Hiring trained and responsible bar staff is a must. Alcohol and security guards go hand in hand, and never serve alcohol without appropriate security on site. Make sure your valet knows the law and doesn’t give the car to someone who is clearly drunk. Make sure taxis, nez rouge or other transportation is easily available for intoxicated guests. Get them home safe, even if the say they aren’t drunk. There are portable alcohol breathalyzers, have some on hand, prove to the guest they can’t drive. If they insist and you can’t stop them, call the police right away. But first and foremost you NEVER drink at your event. NEVER. Even one drink is inappropriate. Why? Because when the court case is presented and a guest says they saw you drinking at the event, your supposed negligence is automatically escalated to gross negligence. Oh and this goes for your bar staff too.. they aren’t allowed to drink at events, even if it means that they aren’t having as much fun.
Finally, before you go out and do, if you don’t know something, take the time to learn.