by Jonathan T. Howe, esq. | March 01, 2007

With 50 states and the District of Columbia, not to mention thousands of cities, enacting their own laws to govern the hospitality and meetings industry, it is impossible for meeting professionals to stay on top of the various regulations that might affect their events. Nonetheless, some statutes deserve our full attention.

On the Books

Laws generally are enacted as a knee-jerk reaction to some incident that occurred.

In Chicago, for example, an alderman in favor of clean streets years ago introduced an ordinance that would require carriage drivers to put diapers on the horse. His efforts resulted in a pooper-scooper ordinance.

Similar instances have resulted in the following strange laws: In Alabama, it is illegal for a driver to be blindfolded while operating a vehicle. In Atlanta, giraffes cannot be tied to telephone poles or street lamps. In Illinois, it is against the law to speak “English” -- the official language there is deemed “American.” In Indiana, “drinks on the house” are illegal, and in that state’s hotels, your sheets must be exactly 99 inches long by 81 inches wide.

On the serious side, many laws have been adopted to protect the safety of people attending meetings. For example, in New York state, the first speaker in a session is required to point out the room’s exits. Similar requirements apply in other states.

The most pervasive local restrictions deal with the sale and consumption of alcoholic beverages. And the biggest area of new laws throughout the United States addresses smoking in public places (see M&C,The Law & the Planner, January).

Some regulations also now deal with dietary concerns, such as the health code in New York City banning trans fats. In Chicago, an ordinance bans the sale of foie gras. Several enterprising restaurants have gotten around this law by stating that they are not selling the foie gras; they are giving it to their patrons for free by slipping it in as an extra ingredient and charging for the rest of the dish. Mayor Richard M. Daley has labeled this particular law the silliest he has seen. Still, it behooves a planner to be aware such regulations exist.

Limiting Liability

Safety and health laws vary from city to city and facility to facility. While sometimes local laws can seem ridiculous, in most situations they will be unknown to the meeting professional but could have a dramatic impact on the organization. And ignorance of a law is no excuse -- or protection -- when it is broken. Planners always should ask vendors and convention and visitor bureau contacts if there are any laws or regulations they need to know about.

The courts assume that the presence of the law establishes a standard by which the meeting professional must comply. Failure to do so will result not only in possible civil and even criminal liability imposed by government agencies but also will establish a benchmark by which private litigation can be brought.

Your contracts should require all suppliers to be in full conformance with local laws while indemnifying the host organization against any liability that might result following a failure to comply with such laws. Here is a useful sample clause.

“Supplier” represents and warrants that it is and shall be in full compliance with all applicable laws and regulations governing its responsibilities under this agreement and shall indemnify, hold harmless and defend “Organization,” its officers, directors, employees and agents against any and all claims or actions against Organization based upon any alleged failure to be in such compliance.

Jonathan T. Howe, Esq.,is a senior partner in the Chicago, St. Louis and Washington, D.C., law firm of Howe & Hutton Ltd., which specializes in meetings, travel and hospitality law. Legal questions can be e-mailed to him at