CSR and Liability Concerns

Note to planners: Good deeds can pose legal risks

Jonathan T. Howe 2016

CSR events often require a financial outlay for supplies, such as bike parts, notebooks, pens, backpacks, even soaps and toothbrushes. Specify in your agreement who is paying for the materials.

 Check with the charitable group to see if they already have waivers available for participants.

 For more information about the Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act, which protects donors from liability, go here.

Charitable activities are an increasingly popular element of meeting agendas. In demonstrating corporate social responsibility, the host organization's intentions are good, but not all good deeds go unpunished. Planners need to know the legal ramifications of CSR activities, should plans go awry.

All organizations that give away leftover meals and ingredients to shelters and food pantries are protected from liability by the federal Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act. However, in some circumstances the act does not apply. If the organization is paid to donate food, it is not protected. Gross negligence, or products that fail to meet labeling requirements, also invite risk.

For activities where attendees need to use wrenches, hammers or other tools -- such as bike-building events or volunteering for Habitat for Humanity -- you need to provide a waiver of liability and release to be signed by those who participate. This document should be succinct, outlining the risks participants will take on when the activity gets going.  

In addition, participants must be provided with appropriate safety gear and clear instructions before they start using a circular saw or climbing a ladder, for instance.

When enlisting an outside firm to help establish the program, whether a destination management company or the charity itself, check them out thoroughly beforehand, exploring similar programs they have run and talking to other groups that have used them. Another good source for suggestions or recommendations is the destination's CVB.


In your due diligence, determine if the organizations you are dealing with are covered by insurance that might also cover your participants. If possible, ask the beneficiary organization to name your organization as a co-insured or to provide its certificate of insurance.

Also, make sure your group has adequate insurance coverage for both your organization and participants. Liability insurance should provide coverage for the potential of substantial legal fees if the unexpected occurs.

As with all elements of your meeting, develop a detailed agreement between your organization and the entity that will benefit from your CSR program. This document should include vital items such as a hold-harmless provision, permission for you to publicize your participation, the naming of your organization as a co-insured and each party's specific responsibilities.

Questions? Check with your lawyer.

Jonathan T. Howe, Esq., is a senior partner of the Chicago and Washington, D.C., law firm of Howe & Hutton Ltd., specializing in meetings and hospitality law. Send your comments or legal questions to [email protected]