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Special events create complex risks

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ITASCA, Ill.—First-place runner Robert Cheruiyot was at the finish line of the 2006 LaSalle Bank Chicago marathon last month when he slipped and fell, hitting his head on the wet, slick ground.

After what many called a freak accident, the Kenyan runner, who crossed the finish line as he fell, reportedly spent two days in the hospital and told reporters that there was nothing wrong with the ground and that he "just fell."

However, with an aggressive lawyer, Mr. Cheruiyot could sue marathon sponsor LaSalle Bank, the company responsible for placing the rubber mats at the finish line, possibly the company that manufactured them, the City of Chicago, and numerous other companies and organizations associated with the event, said Ann Carroll, senior vp of the Insurance Services Division for Mesirow Financial in Chicago.

She was speaking at a session on special events and publicity liability at the Risk Management and Employee Benefits Conference and Exhibition held in Itasca, Ill. last month.

Ms. Carroll along with Kathy Kaminsky, director of risk management for Chicago's Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority, told REBEX attendees that companies and organizations need to consult their insurance brokers, purchase well-rounded policies and study all risks before sponsoring special events or giveaways.

The process can be complex, said Ms. Kaminsky, whose organization manages one of Chicago's largest convention and entertainment venues.

Typically, special events coverage includes liability coverage for injury claims from participants, guests and spectators in corporate-sponsored events and cancellation coverage. Events requiring the coverage are broad and run the gamut: parades, employee athletic events, charity events, rewards and trip giveaways, holiday parties, traveling exhibitions and promotions.

Even conferences such as REBEX need the coverage, Ms. Carroll said.

"If somebody rips off and eats the eyeball of the REBEX teddy bear and chokes, (REBEX) can get sued," said Ms. Carroll, holding up a stuffed toy given to attendees at prior conferences. In addition, the conference organizers could be held liable if the muffins and juice provided during breaks in REBEX sessions resulted in incidents of food poisoning, she said.

Risk managers also need to consider liability issues associated with the security aspects of special events, Ms. Kaminsky said.

For example, when the Chicago White Sox won baseball's World Series in 2005, the team displayed its trophy at various locations throughout the city in a traveling exhibit. When it made its way to Navy Pier, there were many risk management and insurance issues at hand, Ms. Kaminsky recalls.

"We had to think about security. We had to think about transport," she said. "Are we responsible for security, or does it come with security? What happens if the item causes damage to our property? There were so many items to think about."

Ms. Kaminsky said the city purchases special events insurance for all events and exhibits, but said the amount varies depending on the situation and the risks.