Leading Meeting Professionals

Professional Convention Management Association

May 15 2013

We Asked the Lawyer

Jill Formeister
Hidden costs, ADA charges, and limiting liability were among the topics discussed at the Association Forum Meeting Planners’ SIG meeting on May 6.  Attorney Jed Mandel, founding Member of Chicago Law Partners, LLC, updated planners on current legal issues during the session entitled “Ask the Lawyer.”

Mandel answered planner questions about hidden costs, limiting liability, and general negotiations.  He identified hidden costs including security and AV, noting that a requirement to use an exclusive company limits a planner’s negotiating power to find the best deal.  A security requirement might not always be clear when the contract is signed, and can be a surprising expense.  He cautioned planners to scrutinize contracts closely, and if a mistake is made, do not repeat it in the future.

Although organizations can accrue expenses under The Americans with Disabilities Act, they cannot pass on the expenses for reasonable accommodations to attendees.

Taxes can be an unbudgeted and hidden expense, as several states now tax group cancellation fees.  He suggested that, when weighing site options, planners inquire about taxes, the amount, and how they are paid to the state.  He further recommended requesting and reviewing a copy of the ordinance.

Internet charges can surprise attendees who pay for Internet access in their rooms, but find that guest room access often does not work in meeting rooms.  Hotels set up the Internet differently in guest versus meeting rooms.

Much discussion centered on limiting liability, and Mandel identified several tactics:

  • Limit your risk.  This can be as simple as taping down electrical cords.
  • Consider if your organization wants to undertake a particular activity (i.e., offering bungee jumping for a geriatric society).
  • Transfer risk:
    • Hold harmless clauses should be well thought out.
    • Releases or waivers should also be carefully worded.
    • Ask for a release at the time of registration and when attendees pick up their credentials, etc. on site.
    • Retain waivers according to the state statute (for the state in which the event is held).
    • All participants must sign a waiver or not participate.  No exceptions.
    • Education and warning, such as providing a thorough emergency plan
    • Insurance.  To determine the need, balance risks – the likelihood of occurrence and its potential impact.  Insurance comes down to defense costs versus liability costs. 

As a final comment about negotiating contracts, Mandel reminded planners “to ask.  They can only say no.”

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