In this time of heightened awareness of security and safety, what is the responsibility of meeting planners to address these issues? In a nutshell, a planner's legal obligation is to refrain from conduct that creates an unreasonably great risk of harm to others. This “duty of care” extends to all for whom the meeting planner provides advice or service.
Essentially, the duty of care requires that one investigate, and act in response to that investigation, in a manner that would be expected of a reasonably prudent meeting planner in the same situation. At a minimum, you have an obligation to inform and warn as necessary. Duty of care requires a planner to conduct reasonable due diligence and to publicize the results of the investigation to the people to whom the duty of care is owed. Failure to do so might very well be deemed a breach of duty. Note that the meeting planner is not obligated to guarantee anyone's safety and security — although he or she should strive to do so. The minimum legal obligation is to investigate and disclose.
Here's an example: A meeting planner might investigate whether a potential host facility has security procedures and plans in place, then pass along the findings to the people deciding whether or not to host the event there. A planner need not determine whether the plans are adequate. However, using common sense, if a reasonably prudent meeting planner questioned the adequacy of those plans, then as a next step in due diligence, the meeting planner would be expected to hire an appropriate security expert to provide advice on the sufficiency of the plans.
Deciding which due diligence inquiries to make requires the exercise of good judgment. You can develop due diligence checklists for a number of areas (hotel, insurance, safety, etc.). The following are just a few ideas to get you started:
-Is a contract properly signed and executed?
-Are clauses limiting liability or indemnifying persons sufficient to protect your group? Or not so broad as to expose the group to excessive liability?
-Do you have an adequate escape clause (e.g., termination or cancellation provision, acts of God clause)?
-Will adequate security be maintained?
-Do you have general liability insurance?
-Do you need special coverage?
-Are limits of liability adequate? Have you assumed special obligations because of a hold harmless or indemnification provision?
-Do you need product liability, host liquor liability, or dram shop liability insurance?
Do you need cancellation insurance?
Safety and Liability
-Are facilities “up to code?” Are there sprinklers, smoke detectors, etc.?
-Does the facility train its employees in safety and security?
-Does the facility meet the access requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act?
-Have reasonable accommodations been made to meet the auxiliary aid needs of the ADA? (See “Ramping Up Your ADA Attitude,’ page 55.)
-Have you sent all attendees safety and security guidelines or plans?
-Have good risk reduction/risk management techniques been applied?
-Do you have plans in place to respond to a medical emergency or natural disaster, a national emergency, a labor strike, or disruption of transportation facilities?
-Have you adequately informed your group or group's leaders of all conditions regarding the meeting?
This list could not cover every possible contingency. Different meetings present different issues. It should, however, be a good starting point for helping you perform the due diligence necessary to properly exercise duty of care. ------------------------------------------------------------------------
Jed R. Mandel is a partner in the Chicago-based law firm of Neal, Gerber & Eisenberg, where he heads the trade and professional association practice.