Trends in the travel industry indicate that traditional rest-and-relaxation vacations are being replaced by adventure vacations. Not surprisingly, these trends are reflected in the activities being offered at meetings and conventions. In addition to golf tournaments and scenic bus tours, planners are offering mountain climbing, white-water rafting, hot-air ballooning. You name it. But, with thrills come spills and potential liability ills. These exhilarating meeting activities in- crease the risk that a participant will be injured and try to hold the sponsor liable. So, what can a planner do?
1. Manage the Risk. Part of risk management is risk avoidance. Certain activities simply should not be offered. It's not a good idea, for example, to sponsor a 10K run for a meeting of senior citizens . . . in the tropics . . . with no nearby medical facilities. Planners should exercise due care in selecting their vendors. Before signing a, find out about the company's precautionary systems and safety record. Are the employees experienced? Do they have the required licenses?
In addition, it is always a good idea to have a well-written agreement with vendors that carefully spells out duties and responsibilities. To the extent possible, the agreement should minimize the indemnification the meeting planner must give to others and maximize the indemnification obtained from others. Also, be sure that the vendor has adequate insurance. If possible, have the group named as an additional insured on the contractor's insurance policy.
The organization will still retain a certain amount of risk. It is prudent to prepare for any circumstances that reasonably can be anticipated and to inform, warn, and educate attendees about the risks.
2. Transfer the Risk. One element of risk transfer is to obtain indemnification from others; another is to get participants to sign a "waiver and release," a contract in which the signer agrees to give up any right to recover damages from the other entity, and to release that entity from all potential liability in return for the right to participate in the activity. If well drafted, it can discourage potential claimants from the outset, and if a claim is brought, it can facilitate a quick dismissal.
Generally speaking, the more narrowly focused the waiver and release, the more likely that it will be enforceable. So, when preparing releases, be explicit about what potential legal claims are being waived. Draft releases for a specific event to take place at a specific time and place. For a person under 18, a waiver and release must be signed by a parent or guardian. Planners also should be sensitive about when they ask participants to sign releases. A release signed months before the event might give the participant an argument that it should not be enforced. Similarly, a release shoved in front of a participant as he or she is about to jump off the bungee platform might be construed as too late. A good compromise is to send early notice of the intent to require releases (and even a copy of the release) with meeting registration materials. Then, as participants arrive at the meeting, have them sign the releases.
3. Insure Against the Risk. Not all risks can be managed or transferred. Consider the scope of planned activities and the degree and likelihood of exposure. Then, balance that against the cost of insurance. Based on that analysis, purchase adequate insurance.
Whether you are offering the thrill of hanggliding or the simple pleasure of a nature walk, keep in mind that recreational events can result in spills and, potentially, expensive legal bills. It's a good idea to manage, transfer, and insure against that risk.