Social Gathering Events at Higher Education Institutions

Preparing, Protecting, and Proceeding with Campus-Specific Insurance

By Roy R. Reichold

Orchestrating a function an at an event venue typically entails filling an empty space with people for a celebration, business meeting, or some other type of gathering, for a given period of time. Conventionally, outside contractors are hired to provide food, liquor, entertainment, and other amusement functions.

It’s a little more difficult where universities and colleges are concerned. There are more considerations to be taken, because these institutions’ main responsibility is their student population. The extent to which colleges and universities are liable for student safety is an issue that has undergone change in recent decades, which has resulted in conflicting court decisions and a lack of clarity in the limits of the law. Since universities could be potentially liable for harm to students, guests, and third-party vendors for negligence, it is crucial to identify all potential risks for each individual function and take steps to prevent and mitigate them.

Preparing for the Worst

Being proactive about safety is one of the best ways an institution can protect itself against lawsuits, especially where there is a recognized risk. The goal of a campus security program should be to provide students, employees, and guests with an atmosphere free from fear of personal harm and property loss. To accomplish this goal, a university or college should develop a campus security program with proper training of staff and students to recognize possible threats.

Universities and college event planners must work continuously with their risk manager, campus security, and insurance specialist to identify all possible exposures and develop risk transfer strategies to mitigate any potential losses against the university. The following scenarios show the importance of planning for worst-case outcomes:

  • The university hires a third-party tent and scaffolding company to erect a tent that holds 1,000 people for a graduation ceremony. The day of the ceremony, a serious thunderstorm erupts that blows down the tent and collapses the scaffolding, injuring several guests.
  • The university has an alumni party with 500 guests and hires an outside catering company to provide food and liquor. During the event, a guest was overserved and, while driving home, had a serious accident that injured the guest and killed the individual he hit.
  • The university is hosting (what some people think) an event with a very controversial speaker. During the speech, some guests start shouting and shoving, which results in a small riot with other guests getting hurt.

Transferring the Risk

The three examples above are all true and have happened. It’s crucial for event planners to work with their administration’s legal counsel and establish specific contract wording with potential clients. This type of special wording in contracts contains “Hold Harmless” verbiage that protects the university and helps transfer the risk. Also, establishing mandatory insurance limits to all third-party vendors that will be coming onto the premises and ensuring they name the University “Additional Insureds” on their own insurance policies.

In instances where the colleges themselves use their own employees for events such as celebrations and graduations, there are “special event” insurance policies that can be obtained which cover specific events, weather conditions, unexpected cancellations, and dates. University and college exposures basically consist of operational exposures, including both first- and third-party, in addition to management liability exposures.

Liability Insurance Options

Liability policies are designed to respond to losses that you are obligated to pay due to your negligence. They always involve a third-party claim.  Below are some of the more common liability insurance options:

  • General Liability Insurance – Typically responds to bodily injury, property damage, or personal injury claims.

Professional Liability Insurance – Provides coverage that is not included in a general liability policy. Professional liability may respond to claims of negligence.

  • Management Liability Insurance – Can respond to claims of wrongful acts.
  • Employment Practices Liability Insurance – This coverage is very important for public entities because these claims can be quite common. Because of the public nature of these entities, civil rights laws are particularly applicable.

There are other specialized liability policies that respond to exposures which are specific to the public entity’s activity. Examples include Law Enforcement Liability, School Board Liability, Educators’ Legal Liability, Liquor Liability, and Employment Practices Liability.

Questions to Consider

When designing your organization’s risk management plan, work with an experienced insurance risk advisor, as there are several considerations that can help you determine exactly what you need to implement.  Think through the following questions as you go about this process:

  • Is the insuring agreement broad enough to capture all of the current and future work of the organization? Determine if the policy covers the scope of your organization’s tasks and services by reading the definition of the covered services in the policy.
  • Are there any exclusions? Look at the list of exclusions that resist coverage. Review the list to be sure it does not preclude coverage for any services or tasks that you need covered.
  • Can the policy be customized or modified? Can extensions be added?
  • Have there been any past tasks or activities at your organization that could potentially result in a claim? Have there been past instances where a claim was filed? What was the result? Discussing the specifics with your risk advisor can help determine what coverage specifications you need now to prepare you for the future.


Roy R. Reichold is a Senior Risk Advisor for Lakenan.  To learn more information, visit or call (573) 883-7446.

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