At the Read By The Sea festival in River John, N.S., last July, the biggest danger was that one of the six Canadian writers might fall off the slightly wobbly stairs leading up to the haywagon stage.
The audience, in the hundreds, was stretched out on blankets on the grass, in chairs under marquees, and the July sun was beating down on the open field with the kind of summer cloudless heat that warms the hearts of the organizers.
But even organizing something as straightforward as a one-day open-air festival, the L-word comes up — liability.
The organizing committee has talked about it, and since they’re on a field behind (and belonging to) the Royal Canadian Legion, they’ve found out their event is under the Legion’s coverage. But the worry’s far from only theirs. On Newfoundland’s Burin Peninsula last week, 18 participants were at the Piper’s Frith writing retreat at Kilmory Resort: it’s an intensive week with writers, mentors and the fall colours of Swift Current.
As a resort, Kilmory has its own liability insurance requirements— but so does the retreat itself, coverage found in the tangly world of special event coverage. A parade in P.E.I.? A New Brunswick rugby tournament? You get the picture.
Try signing up for special event insurance and you begin to be able to imagine the hazards just from reading the questions: will there be alcohol? An inflatable bouncy castle? Fireworks? A petting zoo? A parade? Will there be horses in the parade? (If yes, each horse owner is required to provide proof of insurance.)
Every tick-mark in a box is another risk, a potential higher premium. (Will there be music? What genre?)
And sure, it’s only sensible to take precautions, especially in litigious times when law firms put the millions of dollars they’ve reaped for personal injury clients up on highway billboards as if they’ve made the money just magically appear from thin air.
But you have to ask: how did we get here?
And have we forgotten that there actually is a point where liability ends and personal responsibility takes over?
One of the bigger liability cases in Newfoundland right now? A classaction lawsuit over highway motor vehicle accidents involving moose, and whether the provincial government should share the blame or take over financial responsibility for the serious injuries and expenses critically injured drivers endure.
The case hinges on whether the provincial government has done enough to ensure road safety from the big animals — a situation complicated by the fact that moose aren’t native to the island part of the province, and were actually introduced by the government, which is now being sued for what you could call their side-effects. (The government won Round 1, but the case is being appealed.) What does it all mean? Well, that we have to spend a lot of time worrying about what might happen — and who will end up paying. And that insurance companies will make money pretty much all the time, even if you get to buy a bit of peace of mind.
And the haywagon stairs in River John? The writers were all warned in advance — and no one fell off. firstname.lastname@example.org; his column appears on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays in TC
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