Editor’s note: The lawyer quoted in this article is not providing legal advice. If you are seeking legal advice, consult with a professional.

Has this year strengthened your relationship with the event contract? If so, you’re not alone. 2020 brought to the fore voluminous talk about force majeure clauses, common law principles and greater attention to legal terms in general.

Tests. Vaccines. Data. Security. There’s much to consider legally when in-person meetings truly get going again. Smart Meetings got in touch with an expert about what meeting professionals should be thinking about when face-to-face meetings resume.

In speaking with Ty Sheaks, attorney at McCathern, LLC, we found out how meeting professionals and venues are reacting to the fluctuating legal landscape of safety protocols and signage, as well as what questions we should be asking moving forward.

Waiving Responsibility

Over the months, Sheaks noticed more hotels and venues using liability waivers, along with enhancing safety protocols, revising contracts, signage and training. “But the legality and enforceability of those will largely depend on compliance with state specific laws,” he notes, “so they should be drafted carefully and with the help of legal counsel. Those efforts are hampered by the extreme reduction in budgets for most folks, so it’s a tightrope walk on what to do and how to do it effectively.”

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An increasing number of states have been enacting business liability protections. “Last time I checked, in October, there were approximately 37 bills in 20 states that had been adopted or enacted addressing liability issues,” he says. While some of those bills are geared toward first responders, a number offer broader protections to all businesses, similar to what is commonly known as “safe harbor” provisions, meaning it doesn’t prevent a lawsuit from being filed, but provides greater legal burdens to establish liability for a claim.

Sheaks notes there’s been a lot of negotiation at the federal level about whether the stimulus bill with another round of Paycheck Protection Program funding will include similar liability protections. “We’ll have to watch that closely,” he says.

Questions to Consider

Marriott International just began rolling out virus testing as part of its Connect with Confidence program. This is great news, but there could be significant legal implications in requiring attendee testing, according to Sheaks.

“There could be important legal data and security issues to requiring testing of attendees that really just opens Pandora’s box on potential legal issues. Not to say it can’t or shouldn’t be done, it just has to be done thoughtfully and carefully to ensure you don’t run afoul of applicable laws,” he says.

There are several questions to think about before requesting tests from attendees. According to Sheaks, you should ask the following.

  • Who should be required to take the test?
  • How reliable is it?
  • Who keeps that data?
  • What if someone paid to attend but fails the test?

Sheaks’ strongest recommendation is to look at what’s being done by larger companies like Disney and AHLA, airlines and restaurant organizations like National Restaurant Association. Lessons can be learned from successful events, such as those that have taken place in Texas, Florida and Colorado, to see what they did and what they would do differently.

“Then engage legal counsel if you decide to take action one way or the other to ensure you do it correctly and legally to try and avoid issues on the back end,” he says.

NCSL is a great source for meetings planners who want to keep up on ever-changing legislation across the country.


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