July 01, 2000
Meetings & Conventions: Planner's Portfolio July 2000 Current Issue
July 2000 lawandplan.gifPLANNER'S PORTFOLIO:

The Law & the Planner

By Jonathan T. Howe, Esq.


What planners need to know when choosing a policy or analyzing current coverage

Insurance is basically a means to cover the cost of catastrophic situations. But because we can’t predict the nature of unforeseen catastrophes, it’s a purchase that involves a lot of informed decision-making.

First, determine how much insurance you need. You should have a reliable insurance broker who understands the meetings business and the type of risks inherent in meetings, conventions and special events. Your broker should be prepared to answer questions and provide ongoing support in the event of a claim or other concern.

Tell all. If you’re scheduling a 5K walk/race or a whitewater rafting excursion, provide your broker with details about the event to be sure you are properly covered.

Even the most mundane activities involve risk. A simple cocktail party raises concern about liquor liability. The use of automobiles by staff and volunteers can lead to liability if an accident occurs when they are picking people up or delivering goods on behalf of the meeting sponsor.

If you already have coverage, read your policy carefully to determine if changes should be made. Coverage generally is broad in nature; exclusions are the key.

The policy might cover “acts or omissions” that give rise to a claim, and it might say any act that is “intentional or willful” or in “violation of law” will not be covered. Well, most situations involving liability stem from intentional and willful acts, not negligence. Suppose a person is excluded from participating in part of a program. If he sues on the basis of discrimination, the insurance company will decline coverage.

There are two distinct types of insurance coverage. The most popular kind covers “claims made.” That means a claim must be registered during the period of time the policy is in effect. If the policy covers Jan. 1, 2000, through Dec. 31, 2000, a claim made after Dec. 31, 2000 - even for an incident that occurred during the coverage period - would be excluded.

On the other hand, “occurrence” policies cover claims after the policy dates for incidents that happened during the covered period. Consider the asbestos cases that arose as a result of the installation of asbestos in buildings during the ’40s and ’50s; claims were not filed until the ’80s. Only those who had occurrence policies in effect at the time of installation were covered.

Another consideration: If you are covered, when and how does the insurance company come to your defense? One type of clause provides for “reimbursement, hold harmless and indemnification.” That means you have to spend the money first before the insurer will cover you.

The alternative is to require that the insurance carrier “defend” you in the event of any claim, whether or not it goes to litigation.

Be aware of what you must do to initiate coverage. Most policies require prompt notification of any threatened claim. Some just want to know when a formal complaint or lawsuit has been filed.

A number of policies that specifically address issues meeting planners face are available through meetings industry associations. Meeting Professionals International provides several insurance programs for professional liability for independent planners and others, as well as convention cancellation and interruption insurance. These programs are worthy of consideration, as are many sponsored by other industry organizations.

Jonathan T. Howe, Esq., is a senior partner in the Chicago 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

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