Why Liability and Lawsuits Keep Me up at Night
Thursday, November 15, 2018
By Kevin Molesworth, CSEP
Later this month, the ILEA Portland chapter is hosting a meeting where we ask the question, “What keeps you awake at night?” This topic was borne of a conversation that I had with someone who is not in our industry. They asked me, “When you’re a guest at a wedding or fundraiser, can you ever ‘turn it off” and just relax and enjoy yourself?” (Cue the laughter.) What follows is the best recollection I have of my Kerouacian response to his question.
“No. I cannot turn it off. Ever. In addition to risk assessment and mitigation, I am frequently engrossed with thoughts of liability and the potential lawsuits that could arise from an event, even one that is seemingly well-executed from the guest perspective.”
I explained, “You see, when you arrive at a wedding, you’re mainly looking for familiar faces and perhaps a drink, whereas I’m wondering if the venue is compliant with the American Disabilities Act (ADA) because I don’t see a ramp next to the stairs at the entryway … And why aren’t the fire exits clearly labeled? The dinner tables seem packed in pretty tight — are we exceeding the maximum legal occupancy of this venue? A little later, when the toast from the maid of honor is taking entirely too long, you’re thinking only of your hunger, but I’m wondering if the food on the buffet is being maintained at a safe temperature. Are all the various food offerings clearly labeled for those with allergies and sensitivities? When the happy couple cuts into the cake, I notice that the top layer has hydrangeas on it and hope that the sap from the leaves, which is mildly poisonous, hasn’t found its way into the buttercream after sitting out in the warm sun for a few hours. I note that the bride has chosen to include a Southern tradition of having charms placed in the cake for all her bridesmaids to ceremoniously pull out, and I think that not only is it illegal to put non-edible items in food (e.g., Kinder Eggs), but leftover charms could result in a choking hazard. Then I see that super cool Batman cake that was made for the groom and assume that the bakery did not pay to use a licensed image owned by Warner Bros.”
I continue, “When you attend a fundraiser and bid on the basket full of wine featured in the silent auction, I am curious if the inclusion of this item is compliant with local laws pertaining to alcohol. When the band takes the stage, I wonder if the venue has a license with ASCAP or BMI? While you’re admiring the amazing light show, I’m looking to see if each leko has a safety cable holding it to the truss. Everyone seems to enjoy the open bar, but I’m concerned about those who appear to have been overserved. As you dance the night away, I’ve made note that there is only one unarmed security guard out front, and I’m plotting out paths of egress just in case we find ourselves in an active shooter scenario. So, to answer your question, no, I cannot turn it off.”
To my fellow event professionals reading this article, I am sure that most of the examples I noted above are things that you have also pondered. That said, I am concerned that, on some occasions, corners are being cut due to budgetary constraints and limited time to plan and properly execute the event. As such, planners and vendors alike are exposing themselves to litigation. I ask you, could you or your company survive a lawsuit? Think not only of the costs, but the wasted time and the stress. I have had more than one colleague accuse me of worrying too much and making the case that “no reasonable person would ever sue you for these types of things.” Precisely. It’s unlikely that a “reasonable” person would pursue a civil action against you, but it’s not the reasonable people that keep me awake at night.
I urge all my fellow event professionals to protect themselves. One of the most effective ways to do this is by hiring highly qualified professionals. Instead of selecting the cheapest, most convenient vendors and outside resources, opt for partners that hire well-trained employees who understand the risks and apply smart, safe and compliant practices to do the best job. Building an event team of experienced professionals yields long-term benefits, particularly when it comes to mitigating liability and lawsuits. Want to sleep soundly at night? Vet your employees, especially your third-party resources, and focus on people or organizations that prioritize compliance — safety, legal, cyber, environmental, etc.
Commit to memory these words that I heard spoken by an attorney at an ILEA meeting a few years ago, “Anyone can sue anyone else at any time for any reason, so don’t make it easier for them by taking shortcuts.”
Kevin Molesworth, CSEP, began his career as a theatrical director and producer in New York City. He went on to become one of the most sought after event designers in New York. Kevin moved to Austin in 2007 and soon after founded Brass Tacks Events, an event production and design firm. He relocated to Oregon in late 2016 and is the current president of the Portland Chapter of ILEA and the international chair of the Spirit of Excellence Committee. Previously, he served on the ILEA Austin Board of Directors as president where he led the chapter to new heights in membership growth, earning the distinction of being the largest ILEA chapter in the entire world, as well as earning Chapter of the Year three years in a row. He was named the ILEA International Volunteer of the Year in 2015.
Tags: CSEP , Events liability , Events Safety