Ask The Experts
YOUTH SPORTS AND THE LAW: Risky business
Leasing your facilities to outside user groups can expose your department to major problems and costly lawsuits if the behavior of coaches or spectators escalates to violence and results in injuries. Have you taken all of the necessary steps to protect your department before turning over your facilities to others?
Q: Our recreation department has begun leasing our facilities to outside groups to use for their weekend tournaments. These events are really competitive and the behavior of the spectators is pretty volatile – there’s lots of yelling back and forth among fans of opposing teams. I’m fearful this could escalate into violence at some point where people could get injured, including innocent bystanders.
Of course I don’t want spectators injured, but I also don’t want our facility involved in a costly lawsuit if an injury takes place at our facility due to violence. Can our department be found liable if someone is injured at our facility during a fight, and are there any steps we can take to help protect our department?
A: Yes, the recreation department must guard against being brought into a lawsuit based on its role as the lessor and owner of the leased facilities. Whenever you lease the facilities, you run the risk of something going wrong while someone else controls and uses your property.
To protect the recreation department and yourself, the lease contract should include a complete release of the recreation department and its employees for any and all problems that might arise. The language should unambiguously state that the lessee is fully and legally responsible during the term of the lease for the facilities themselves, for all invitees on the property, for security, and for controlling the behavior of invitees, crowds, etc.
Furthermore, the language should clearly state that the lessee indemnifies and holds the recreation department harmless for any injuries, claims, defense, and attorneys’ fees associated with any legal actions that may arise from any incident at the facility during the term of the lease.
The contract should also state that the lessee will furnish the recreation department (and/or its employees) with attorneys of its/their choice and pay the attorneys’ fees and costs if the recreation department (or its employees) is brought into such a case.
You should be certain (as part of the lease contract) that the lessee has liability insurance and that the recreation department and its employees are named as additional insureds under that policy.
If organizations want to lease your facilities and won’t sign such a lease, don’t do business with them. It’s not worth the risk.
David Langfitt is a partner in the Locks Law Firm in Philadelphia, Penn., where he specializes in complex commercial, mass tort and fiduciary litigation. He has also litigated multiple patent and copyright infringement claims in federal district and appellate courts. He can be reached at (215) 893-3423 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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