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December 7, 2016

Holiday party planning — Risk management considerations

Carol Sherron

The season for entertaining is here — Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukah, New Year’s Eve, the Super Bowl, all great reasons to get together with family and friends.  In addition to the excitement of planning, organizing and hosting a social event, the importance of managing risks associated with entertaining, especially at home, is essential.  

When hiring vendors — from event planners to decorators, caterers, servers, entertainers, and cleaners, it is important to properly vet each person who will be involved in the event and coming into your home.  References from friends and families are a good place to start, but the process shouldn’t end there.  Background checks can identify potential issues, such as criminal history, incarceration, security risk, and sexual offender information.  In the event of an accident or injury caused by a vendor, your assets may be at risk if the vendor does not carry proper insurance protection.

Vendors, including entertainers, who will have access to your home or the venue should carry their own liability insurance and be required to provide a certificate of insurance reflecting their general liability, automobile liability, and workers’ compensation coverage, if applicable.  Vendors who use subcontractors should provide confirmation that they only use insured subcontractors. Taking these steps before the event can prevent issues that may otherwise take years of litigation to resolve.

Specialty Coverage Needed for Dynamic Pyrotechnic Performance

The following story is about a holiday party that included entertainment with dramatic pyrotechnic elements to delight the guests.  The host rented out all of the meeting space in a luxury hotel and worked with the catering manager and a party planner to create a party for friends and family with separate entertainment areas around the hotel property for dancing, children’s play, and quiet areas for conversation.  The party theme was highlighted in the invitations, decorations, and food choices, all culminating in a performance by a troupe of entertainers that were being flown in from outside the country.

The hotel required that the host provide event insurance and the client turned to me  for assistance.  I asked for details about the event and learned that the entertainers were being flown in from another country, did not have their own insurance, and would be incorporating pyrotechnics in their performance.  All of these made this a high-risk event for everyone involved.  I was able to secure coverage through a specialty insurer who required that a local pyro technician inspect and certify the equipment, and the hotel required the approval of the fire marshal before the event.

Effective Risk Management Practices Creates a Safe Celebration

The host, who was unaware of the hotel’s requirements and had planned his entire event around the entertainment, became very concerned that his party would not go as planned.  Everyone met the morning before the event, and as the entertainers removed their equipment from their vehicle, the pyro technician shook his head and advised the host that the tubing being used in the drums and costumes was not rated for the type of gas being used.  As a result, the fire marshal could not approve the performance. I discussed the issue with the pyro technician and we arrived at a solution. The pyro technician agreed to take the equipment back to his shop, replace the tubing, and train the entertainers on how to use it. 

Later that day, and just hours before the event, the pyro technician certified the equipment, and the fire marshal approved the event.  The party went on as planned and the guests enjoyed the elaborate event and spectacular entertainment.

Because this event was being held at a hotel, the host was required to focus on risk management, and the proper precautions were taken to ensure the safety of the guests and the hotel property.  However, had this event taken place at his home instead of the hotel, the outcome could have been very different if he did not think to include risk management considerations in his party planning.

Not all parties involve the degree of risk that this event presented, but this story highlights the need to incorporate a knowledgeable insurance advisor into your party-planning process so you and your guests can enjoy a fun, festive, and safe celebration.