Risk Management for Special Events

One of the more important risk management concerns for my community association clients is the management of potential legal liability risks arising from special events.  Whether an association hosts a special event itself or permits its members to use its facilities to host their own special events, there are a number of risk exposures to be considered and addressed in order to protect the event participants and the association.  Stephanie Dufour’s blog post, Safety Considerations for Your “SPECIAL” Day,  is an excellent overview of the risk management issues to be considered.

In addition to Stephanie’s excellent post, I offer the following, addressed to the risk management needs of the venue owner (typically, in my case, a community association):

  • In her 2nd point, Stephanie points out important considerations for the event sponsor regarding location selection.  For the property owner offering its facilities for use (a community association which permits use of its clubhouse for private parties, for example), a similar analysis is important.  The type of use and number of participants for which your facility is safely suited should be carefully considered, and described in your lease, permit or use agreement.  It should go without saying (but I’ll say it anyway ’cause that’s what we lawyer types so often do), that you should in fact have a written agreement for a member’s (or other third party’s) use of your facilities, and that agreement should cover the scope of permitted use, indemnity obligations, insurance requirements and liability waivers.  
  • In her 3rd point, regarding food service, Stephanie notes the importance of proper food preparation and handling.  From the property owner’s perspective, if food will be sold by vendors at an event held at your facilities (an Octoberfest, for example), your written agreement for that event should include appropriate requirements pertaining to any government-required licensing or food handling procedures.
  • Stephanie’s 4th point addresses risk management issues for events where alcohol will be served.  Whether the facility owner is hosting such an event itself or is permitting another party to host the event, Stephanie’s suggestions regarding procedures to institute to ensure the responsible service of alcohol are important.  In addition, liquor liability insurance coverage should be obtained (for a community association, this would typically be done via appropriate endorsement to the association’s commercial general liability – CGL – insurance policy) and, if alcohol is to be served by a third party host, by requiring appropriate liquor liability insurance coverage to be provided by the host via the property use agreement.  The potential need for a temporary liquor license should also be considered.  For example, a wine tasting event may require a one day liquor license.  Information regarding liquor licenses for special events in California can be found here (scroll to the 3rd page). 
  • I cannot endorse strongly enough Stephanie’s comments concerning vendors/collaborative events (Stephanie’s 8th point).  I would add only one thing to Stephanie’s comments - if there will be vendors (booths, entertainment, food, etc.) at your special event, which party will assume liability risks and provide insurance coverage should not only be discussed, but must be carefully memorialized in writing in a binding legal document. 
  • Regarding waivers (Stephanie’s 9th point), keep in mind that the law regarding enforceable terms, scope and format differs from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.  In addition, there are specific legal issues pertaining to waiver and release agreements pertaining to minors.  Do not rely on a form document found on the internet.  Seek the assistance of an attorney licensed in your jurisdiction with experience addressing these issues.
  • Similarly, laws vary from state to state regarding the meaning, scope and enforceability of indemnity agreements.  You need an indemnification clause in any use agreement granting a third party permission to use your property; again, seek the assistance of an attorney licensed in your jurisdiction with experience addressing these issues to prepare your agreement, to ensure that indemnity obligations are addressed in a manner consistent with the law in your jurisdiction.
  • Further to Stephanie’s 10th point, regarding photo/media releases, another issue to consider is how to protect your organization against potential breach/violation of copyright, license and/or publicity rights and similar issues.  One scenario in which a community association may be vulnerable to such claims is when the association hosts outdoor concerts.  Your contracts with live entertainment vendors must be written in such a way as to protect the association against such claims, particularly since such claims may not be covered by the association’s own insurance policies.  It is also important to determine whether there is a sound ordinance controlling the allowable decibel levels of the music, and be sure to address such rules in the vendor’s contract as well.  In my experience, such issues are rarely addressed in the entertainment vendor’s own contract (and when they are the issues are not addressed in a way which protects the association), so I would further add the recommendation that you have the association’s legal counsel review and negotiate the terms of that vendor’s contract as necessary.

Share

The Never Pay Insurance Policy

Earlier this year, attorney John L. Watkins posted an entertaining and very informative series of blog posts about what a business should do if its insurer denies coverage for a claim.  Now, I know what you’re thinking.  “An attorney, huh?  Sure, that means an overly informative series of blog posts.  But entertaining?  Oh, come on, now!”  But really, as dry (and scary) as the topic may be, Mr. Watkins made it entertaining.  I mean, he even quoted Monty Python, for goodness sake.  The only thing I can figure is that his ability to make this topic entertaining must have something to do with the fact that he hails from Atlanta, Georgia.  Interestingly, he and I share similar professional backgrounds and, though located on opposite sides of the country, are seeing the same trends when it comes to insurers’ denial of insurance claims (both for an insured’s own property damage claims and, more scary, when it comes to defending and indemnifying insureds against liability insurance claims). 

At any rate, the posts, here, here, here, and here, are very good.  I couldn’t have said it better myself good.  So, rather than saying it myself, I’m pointing you in their direction.

In addition to the important points Mr. Watkins raises:

1.  Treat your insurance policies as if they were valuable financial documents, because they are.  Keep every piece of paper the insurance company sends you, in chronological order.  You will likely not receive a new copy of the entire insurance policy every year, so keep all of the documents you receive the first year the policy is in place (which will be lengthy, and should include declarations pages, coverage parts – sometimes in the form of a booklet – and endorsements) and then all of the documents you receive after that.  Keep them forever. 

2.  Read your insurance policies! Don’t wait until you have a claim (or a claim has been made against you). Insurance policies are notoriously difficult to understand, particularly when it comes to figuring out how the parts of the policy (the declarations, coverage parts and endorsements) work together. Get your coverage questions answered when you first receive a policy, not when you need it to respond to a claim, because then it’s too late to change your coverage if that’s necessary.

3.  Report claims or events which may give rise to a claim promptly.  Don’t do it by calling or e-mailing your insurance broker.  It’s okay to do that, too (certainly you will want to keep your broker “in the loop”), but your insurance policy or policies will have a section that tells you exactly how and where you are to send notices.  Do it that way.  Exactly the way the policy says you should. 

With respect to a claim against you by a third party (as opposed to a claim you may make to your insurer for damage to your own business property), provide your insurance policies to an attorney with knowledge regarding insurance coverage, and have the attorney decide which insurers to tender a claim to, and how.  Don’t assume which insurers should be notified (commercial general liability or professional liability insurer, current insurers or past insurers too), or whether or not the claim should also be tendered to your umbrella carrier.   

While we’re on this topic, the question of what is (or is not) a potentially covered third party claim is not always clear.  Certainly, if you are served with a lawsuit it should be tendered to the appropriate insurer(s) immediately.  But what if you receive notice of an administrative law hearing, or you receive a demand letter that threatens litigation in the future?  Again, this is when you need to consult with an attorney, since failure to notify an insurer when you should could deprive you of any coverage you would otherwise have had.   

4.  If you ask an insurer to defend you against a third party’s claim, and receive a reservation of rights letter (a letter from or on behalf of the insurer telling you that you will be provided a defense but the insurer reserves the right to contest coverage), take it very seriously.  If you haven’t already consulted an attorney by now, this is absolutely the time when you should.  A number of issues arise from an insurer’s reservation of rights letter, such as (depending upon your jurisdiction), your potential right to independent counsel (instead of, or in addition to, the insurer’s choice of defense counsel) at the insurer’s expense, and/or the insurer’s potential right to allocate the cost of some (or, given the outcome of the litigation, potentially all) of the defense costs incurred by the insurer to you (yes, that’s right, you could end up having to reimburse your insurer).  Statutory and case law applicable to these issues differs from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, so you will need the advice of an attorney who knows the law regarding insurance coverage and claims handling in your State.    

5.  Rather than (or in addition to) a reservation of rights letter, your insurer may ask you to sign a non-waiver agreement.  This document should be taken just as seriously as a reservation of rights letter.  More seriously, even.  Here’s why.  Generally, an insurer has the burden of identifying all potential grounds for denying coverage.  Failure to do so in its reservation of rights letter to the insured may be held to be a waiver of any grounds not identified.  Among other things, a non-waiver agreement typically is written in such a way as to avoid such a waiver.  Do not sign it until you have consulted with an attorney who is knowledgable regarding insurance coverage.

Share

Small Business Answers About the Americans With Disabilities Act

Inc. Magazine recently posted a good article, How to Comply With the Americans With Disabilities Act, addressed specifically to small businesses.  Given the very recent publication of revised ADA regulations (which you can find here), the article is timely.  It also contains links to other resources, including the Department of Justice’s “ADA Business Connection” (where, among many other resources, you will find a 13 minute video entitled “Ten Small Business Mistakes”) and the “ADA Guide for Small Businesses“. 

I won’t repeat the information given in the article, just leave you with the following “teasers” to encourage you to read the article yourself and download the resources it links to:

Teaser #1:  No matter how small your business may be, the ADA may still apply to you in some way.

Teaser #2:  The ADA applies both to employment relationships and to customer relationships (including, but not limited to, the physical space your business occupies).

If you are starting a new business it would be well worth your while to familiarize yourself with the requirements of the ADA; even seasoned business owners will likely find something in the article or the resource links that they didn’t know or have forgotten, however.  Forewarned is forearmed!

Share

New Statutes California Business Owners Should Know About

Earlier this week, I wrote about new statutes California community association managers and board members should know about.  So, I thought I should also talk about new statutes California business owners should know about.  Surely our legislators put great effort into passing lots of legislation to materially improve the business climate in our economically hard hit state. 

Well, no, not really.  I suppose there is a silver lining, though.  At least the folks in Sacramento didn’t go out of their way to make the business climate even worse.

Better luck next year, I suppose.

In the meantime, what to blog about?  I’ve got it! 

Considering the impending Super Bowl game, you may be happy to hear that Assembly Bill 58 amended Penal Code Section 337a, and added Penal Code Section 336.9, to eliminate misdemeanor and/or felony criminal penalties for friendly sports betting pools.  That Super Bowl pool at work?  Now it is only punishable by a fine.  If the stakes are small enough.  Or it doesn’t fall under some other exception.  So okay, these new statutes aren’t perfect (not even for California).  And I should warn you to read the full text of the law yourself, if you are considering doing anything which it may pertain to, because it’s full of all sorts of complexities (and I know less about criminal law than most criminals do).  (You can find it at:  http://www.leginfo.ca.gov/pub/09-10/bill/asm/ab_0051-0100/ab_58_bill_20090806_chaptered.pdf.)   

But it is nice to know that our state lawmakers spent their time on issues which are of such importance to our economy this past year.  I mean, in addition to these new Penal Code provisions, they also passed a law allowing a motor vehicle passenger to turn on a DVD screen in the front seat, as long as the driver can’t see it (Assembly Bill 62).  Oh, and California dentists are now prohibited from making credit arrangements with patients who are under anesthesia (Assembly Bill 171), which makes me wonder how widespread this practice was before (a scary thought). 

Tongue-in-cheek comments aside, there are a few new statutes which, depending upon the business you are in, could be important for you to familiarize yourself with.  If your business is a restaurant, remember that the ban on trans fats kicks in this year (okay, that’s still a bit sarcastic).  If you sell a product or service using recurring periodic fees or charges (an “evergreen clause”, for example), you must be careful to disclose the details and obtain your customer’s specific written consent (Assembly Bill 340).  If you do home remodeling or other contracting work, be very sure that you have the necessary license(s), as a first offense will now cost you up to a $5,000 fine and up to six months in jail (Assembly Bill 370).  And if yours is a small, home-based child care business (for six or less children), you must be licensed in pediatric first aid and CPR (Assembly Bill 1368), just like larger child care facilities.

New Statutes California Community Association Managers and Board Members Should Know About

One would have hoped that during 2009 California’s legislators would have had their hands full addressing our state’s budget crisis, but they did manage to squeeze in some time to amend and adopt legislation affecting community associations.  Listed below are the statutes which I believe will have the greatest impact on community associations, their managers, board members and residents.  Unless otherwise noted, all of the statutes listed below were adopted in 2009 and are effective as of January 1, 2010.

1.  If your association has a swimming pool or spa, you should already be familiar with the federal Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act (15 USC 8001), requiring pools and spas to be retrofitted with anti-entrapment devices (drain covers meeting specified standards).  This Act became effective in December 2008, and pool retrofits should have been completed by January 1st of this year.  The federal Act includes a section establishing a grant program to assist States with enforcement, education and administration costs, but only States meeting the federal Act’s minimum State law requirements are eligible.  To meet those requirements, California Assembly Bill No. 1020, which amended Section 18942 of, and added Sections 116064.1 and 116064.2 to, the California Health and Safety Code, was passed.  The bill imposes standards both for newly constructed public swimming pools and for the retrofit of existing public swimming pools (and community association swimming pools and spas do fall within the definition of “public” swimming pools).  All pools and spas must be retrofitted by no later than July 1, 2010, unless they have already been retrofitted to comply with the federal Act.  Since both the federal Act and the new State legislation pertain to health and safety issues for children, it would be very poor risk management for an association to ignore this legislation. 

 2.  California Assembly Bill 1353.8 declares any governing document provision which prohibits, or has the effect of prohibiting, water-efficient landscaping to be void and unenforceable.  The governing documents of many California community associations would contravene this new legislation.  As noted in my prior posts regarding solar energy for community associations, it is reasonable to assume that California community associations will see much more legislation pertaining to such “green” issues in the near future.  (I predict that the next big thing will be clotheslines.)

 3.  Several new statutes pertaining to community associations’ disclosure obligations were passed during the last legislative session.  Board members and managers should review and familiarize themselves with the provisions of these new statutes, including:

     a.  Amended Civil Code Section 1350.7 and amended Corporations Code Section 20 (pertaining to electronic distribution of documents);

      b.  New Civil Code Section 1363.005 (which requires distribution of a statutorily proscribed “Disclosure Documents Index” at the request of any member);

      c.  New Civil Code Section 1365.2.5 (regarding new assessment and reserve funding disclosure requirements).

Feel free to contact me for a copy of the full text of these new statutes, or you can find them at http://www.leginfo.ca.gov/calaw.html.  In addition, I am always happy to meet, free of charge, with board members and managers, to discuss complying with the new statutes (or any other issue of concern to your community).

Share

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.