It’s that time of year where communities start to fill up their social calendars with barbecues, pool parties, ice cream socials and other joyous spring and summer events. These types of events can be a great way to build a sense of community in a relaxed, fun environment. However, unfortunate reality is that sometimes social events go south real quick. Maybe one resident has one too many margaritas and picks a fight or maybe a guest volunteers to decorate and falls of a ladder injuring her back. These things happen and just because they happen at an association event does not mean the association is automatically liable. Nevertheless, there are ways associations can reduce their liability exposure while still hosting fun social events in their community clubhouses or in other common areas. Below are some tips for associations to consider before hosting social events.
- Review your insurance coverage. Ask your insurance carrier if social events are covered or if additional Special Events Insurance is needed. Also, if the association plans to serves alcohol it should confirm it has Special Events Insurance, Host Liquor Liability, or other similar coverage in place, which will adequately protect the association. It is also recommended the association confirm that its Directors and Officers Insurance covers both committee members and volunteers in the event they participate in organizing, decorating, or hosting one of the social events.
- Keep the party exclusive. Keep parties “invite-only” and avoid opening the event up to the general public. If the association opens the community clubhouse or other common areas, such as the pool, to the public it also opens itself up to regulation under the Americans with Disability Act (“ADA”). Generally, privately owned common areas made available only to community members and members’ families or guests are exempt from complying with the ADA regulations. Allowing public use of these areas even on a limited basis may result in the need for costly renovations to the common areas in order to bring them into compliance with the ADA.
- Don’t serve alcohol. The easiest way to limit liability is to not serve alcoholic beverages. But if that Cinco de Mayo party just won’t be the same without the margaritas then there are a few options to help reduce risk.
- Hire a licensed caterer or bartender to serve the alcoholic beverages. While this does not remove the risk, it lessens it. Make sure the vendor has proper insurance coverage and the necessary permits and licenses.
- Have a BYOB event. This may be an option if the event is being held in a location where residents are otherwise allowed to consume alcohol. However, while the association is not providing the alcohol, it still cannot ignore guests who become intoxicated and disruptive or otherwise violate the community rules.
- Watch-out for Underage Drinking. Pursuant to C.R.S. 12-47-801, an association may be held civilly liable if it knowingly serves alcohol to underage persons or knowingly provides a place for the underage person to consume alcohol. Therefore, even at a BYOB event the association is liable if the association knowingly allows underage persons to consume alcohol in the common areas. It is recommended that if not using a professional server that all alcohol is stored and monitored by representative or employee of the association to avoid access by underage persons.
- Adopt a Policy. The association should establish written policies and procedures for whether it will allow the serving of alcohol at events and/or guests bringing their own alcohol as well as how it will deal with visibly intoxicated person and consumption by underage persons.
- Obtain a special events permit. But, only if required. Generally, Special Event Permits are required if the association will be selling alcohol or it will be selling or serving alcohol where members of the general public have access. The term “selling alcohol” includes when the association sells tickets or otherwise charges a fee to attend an event where alcohol will be served. In order to determine whether a Special Events Permit will be required the association is advised to visit its city or county website for further information. Also, if the association sells alcohol pursuant to a Special Event Permit, Colorado statute states that the association may be civilly liable for knowingly and willfully serving a person who is visibly intoxicated as well as knowingly serving underage persons.
- Obtain waivers and releases. A waiver and release agreement is an agreement whereby the signing party agrees to waive any and all claims for injuries or damages related to the activity or event and to release the association of all liability. There is no guarantee a waiver and release agreement will remove association liability, but the agreement may reduce the likelihood that an injured party sues the association to recover damages.
For more information on hosting special events, please contact a Altitude Community Law attorney at 303.432.9999.