Liability insurance may become required by law for big events in city parks

Saturday, December 22, 2007 | 4:21 p.m. CST; updated 5:37 a.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008

COLUMBIA — As the size and number of special activities in city parks grow, the City Council is considering whether to codify policies requiring liability insurance for some of those events.

The Parks and Recreation Department processes nearly 300 requests per year for special events in parks. The city requires groups sponsoring large events that are staffed by people other than city employees and that pose a significant liability threat to take out insurance.

“It’s been required for these groups to provide liability insurance for the past 15 to 20 years under department policies,” said Mike Hood, director of Parks and Recreation.

The idea of converting those long-standing policies into an enforceable ordinance arose when the LGBT Coalition questioned whether it should be required to have insurance for its annual PrideFest at Stephens Lake Park. According to a report by Hood to the council, the insurance premium for the coalition’s event has increased from $600 in its first year, when only about 40 people attended, to $2,200 at its most recent festival, which attracted more than 1,000 people.

Members of the LGBT Coalition could not be reached for comment.

Third Ward Councilman Karl Skala said writing the policies into an ordinance would make it no more difficult for those groups to obtain permission or insurance for events. Rather, he said, it would simply clarify what is necessary for these events to go on.

City Counselor Fred Boeckmann is drafting the ordinance. He said it won’t change current policies but will clarify when they apply. Existing policy requires about $2 million in liability insurance per event. If the council decides that’s too high, it can reset specific requirements in the ordinance.

Mary Wilkerson of Boone County National Bank, who helped plan the Roots ’N’ Blues ’N’ Barbecue Festival this summer, said paying a sizable premium for that amount of coverage should be expected when groups organize events on that scale.

Among the guidelines for determining whether an event requires coverage are whether they’re open to the public; whether they anticipate more than 200 people to attend; whether food, beverages or souvenirs will be sold; whether amusement rides or animals will be present; and whether the occasion is a nonsanctioned sporting event.

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