Where kids are present, companies must be sensitive to three legal issues: liability, liability, and liability. Some will decide that the most prudent approach to kids is to provide no programs or services for them. If no programs or services are provided, the company likely has no responsibility and, therefore, no liability. Many are deciding, however, that programs for children are not only appropriate, but are an important selling point for their meetings.

The scope of a company's potential liability differs depending on whether it is providing the services itself or contracting with an outside company. By creating its own programming, the company exposes itself to the greatest possible liability. Basically, it's a bad idea. Most meeting planners do not have the expertise and training to be professional care providers. Leave it to the experts.

Here are my top 12 tips for programs with kids in attendance.

1. Hire qualified professionals.

2. Ask program providers or legal counsel about state and local legal requirements. For example, professionals may need to be licensed, and facilities may need to meet certain minimum requirements.

3. Make sure all necessary licenses and certificates are current and valid.

4. Verify the credentials of all outside hires. Check references carefully.

5. Disclose all relevant information: Let people know what you have found out.

6. Get indemnification/hold-harmless agreements from service providers. Under such agreements, the people providing the children's programming agree to be responsible for any liability that may result from their performance or failure to perform. The company also should determine whether the professionals have insurance to back up any indemnification. Without insurance, a promise to be responsible for damages and to hold the group harmless is only as valuable as the assets of the business—which are likely to be insufficient.

7. Consider obtaining liability insurance. While such insurance may be somewhat redundant, it may be the group's only guarantee that a catastrophic claim won't wipe it out. Whether to purchase such insurance is a business decision that must be made weighing the risk of exposure against the cost of the insurance.

8. Establish written rules on what kids can and cannot do. If children will not be allowed to attend the closing banquet or visit the exhibit floor, say so in advance.

9. Establish written rules on whether there are age limits on participation (e.g., no kids under 6, no kids older than 12).

10. Find out what third-party rules might inhibit participation by children, and make them known to parents. Does a facility prohibit attendance by kids under a certain age? Does a site have a curfew for minors?

11. Get releases from all parents. Remember when dealing with children that any release signed by a minor is not binding. As such, it is critical for a release involving children to state that the participant is a minor and that the person signing the release is the parent or legal guardian. (Remember: Legal age of consent differs from state to state.)

12. Consider publishing a disclaimer. If the meeting planner knows that a significant number of children will be present (even when children are not encouraged or even allowed), it may be worthwhile to print a disclaimer in meeting materials. While disclaimers are not guaranteed protection against liability, they can be helpful if properly drafted. The narrower and more specific, the better. In addition, they may discourage attendees from bringing claims.

Jed R. Mandel is a founding Member of Chicago Law Partners, LLC. He is a frequent lecturer and author on association-related topics and is a regular contributor to association magazines and newsletters.

This article was originally published at MeetingsNet.com in 2002.

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