Livestock show families have been hard at work in the barn while the world sheltered in place during the height of the pandemic. Now these families are chomping at the bit to get back on the show circuit. And, as a livestock show coordinator, you are probably anxious to host your next big show, but you are worried about liability in light of COVID-19. These considerations highlight means to manage risk when hosting a livestock show during the days of the coronavirus.
Liability Waiver and Hold Harmless Agreement
Liability waivers are advised for activities like livestock shows even without the possibility of COVID-19 exposure. In today’s current environment, livestock show organizers should consider requiring participants and attendees to sign a liability waiver that addresses both ordinary risks associated with the event and also risks in light of COVID-19. Each person participating in the show should fill out and sign a liability waiver and hold harmless agreement at the show or immediately prior to attending. If a participant is a minor, in addition to obtaining the minor’s signature, the waiver should be filled out and signed by his/her parent or guardian. It is important to note that in some states, including Illinois, minors rights cannot be waived by the signature of their parent or guardian, however it is still recommended that both the child and adult sign this waiver. See Meyer by Meyer v. Naperville Manner, 262 Ill. App. 3d 141, 634 N.E.2d 411 (2nd Dist. 1994). It is also recommended to post the release on your website or email it out to participants beforehand so that it can be readily reviewed.
Each state’s laws and courts have certain requirements and factors that influence the value of the waiver but in general to be effective a liability waiver should have at a minimum clear, explicit, concise terms that adequately describe and limit the scope of the activities the participants will be involved in at the event. So for example, a livestock show liability waiver should identify the particular show including the name and dates of the show and all the activities that participants would be involved in while there. For example, activities may include the show itself and other things planned such as barnyard olympics.
Scope of Waiver and Additional Safeguards
Please keep in mind that that a waiver is a tool to protect someone from liability for ordinary risks associated with a livestock show, but it will not protect from liability for negligence on the show’s behalf that causes an injury or illness; therefore, it is important that certain steps are taken to ensure an organization is following best practices and that it has clear written safety procedures. The organization can still be liable if negligent and it has a duty of reasonable care.
In light of the current COVID-19 pandemic, consider taking additional safety and sanitation steps including, but not limited to, the following:
Providing hand sanitizer stations throughout thefacility;
Assessing each person present for COVID-19 symptoms, including taking each person’s temperature prior to entryand keeping record of same;
Providing Center for Disease Control (“CDC”) guidelines to all attendees and visibly posting them at thefacility;
Encouraging social distancing practices such as remainingsix (6) feet apart from other individuals;
Encouraging or requiring anyone in attendance to wear a facemask;
Limiting class sizes to allow for proper social distancing between exhibitors;
Allowing participants to stall outside or at their trailer to limit the number of people in the barn at onetime;
Considering holding the show virtually in whole or in part;
Staggering or expanding show dates to limit the number of people present at one time;
Limiting or prohibiting spectators that may be present; and
Limiting the number of people allowed in the show ring or make ready area including only allowing one adult to be present with a child show side.
All of these steps and procedures should be widely advertised in all promotional activities as well as posted visibly at the event. It is imperative that livestock show leadership continually monitor and follow all federal, state, and regional safety guidelines and orders to remain in compliance. These procedures should be expressly followed in addition to the safeguards listed above. These requirements are constantly changing due to the state of the pandemic, so procedures should be adapted and changed if necessary to remain in compliance as of the show dates.
It is also encouraged to reserve the right to hold the show virtually in whole or part in the event that the show cannot be held in person due to guidelines in place at the time of the show. If an organization does not follow federal, state, and local orders, they may likely be found liable for injury or illness that may occur at the livestock show.
In some states, like Texas, there are laws that specifically protect livestock show coordinators from liability for ordinary risks inherent to handling livestock if they either have participants sign a waiver or post signage each including specific language at the event. See Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code § 87.003
If your state has a similar statute, it is important to follow it expressly to ensure liability protection. It is also important to understand exceptions to liability protection. For example, the Texas law cited above provides liability protection if a participant is injured but does not extend that same protection if a spectator is injured while watching from the stands. If your state does not have an applicable law, it is still best practice to post liability waiver and safety language at the event to put all attendees on notice. By visibly posting and providing all liability and risk language to attendees, it will aid the organization’s case in the event it is sued as a result of someone’s injury, sickness, or death in relation to the event. Examples might include placing posters with liability waiver language and safety tips located at high traffic areas such as doors, the show office, bathrooms, and showring, as well as social distancing infographics like floor markings indicating proper social distancing recommendations.
Livestock show organizations should also obtain liability insurance and ensure that the policy covers liability for injuries and illness, particularly as it applies to COVID-19. It may be necessary to purchase additional riders to your policy to adequately protect interests. Keep in mind that if federal, state, and local orders are not followed, insurance policies will likely not cover if the organization fails to follow the law. It is also encouraged that the livestock show document compliance with the law.
In addition to the use of liability waivers and taking additional steps to make safe and warn attendees of potential risks, livestock show coordinators should also evaluate current business structure to determine if it provides personal liability protection to individuals hosting and working the livestock show.
For example, if you are operating the show as an individual, you have unlimited personal liability exposure for potential lawsuits. This means you could be personally sued, and your personal assets subject to judgment satisfaction. However, other business structures such as not- for-profit corporations provide liability protection for its shareholders, officers, and directors assuming that the corporation is following corporate formalities. That being said, even if a business entity structure is established, a close evaluation of corporate books should be completed. This evaluation should make sure there are well detailed By-laws that include indemnification language and that the entity is holding at least annual meetings and documenting minutes from same.
Please keep in mind that these recommendations are best practices and, even if followed, may not prevent future legal action. But, these steps should allow a livestock show organization to more adequately defend its position should a lawsuit arise .
"This blog is for informational purposes only and is not intended to create an attorney-client relationship. It is recommended that you speak to an attorney licensed in your jurisdiction before relying on the information in this blog."