CORONAVIRUS, CONFERENCES, AND LIABILITY- Tips for Speakers, Event Holders, and Attendees

If you’re an individual or company that owns, manages, or controls a conference or event, you owe everyone involved, a legal duty of due care not to subject attendees, speakers, and those working at the event, to an unreasonable risk of harm. What this means is that you have an obligation to provide a safe conference environment and, to warn people of known or reasonably discoverable dangerous conditions.

I did a quick search in CaseText (AI based legal research service) and instantly found thousands of cases where conferences and events have been held liable for subjecting people to an unreasonable risks of harm. Full transparency, I’m a brand ambassador for CaseText because it’s awesome!

Just like the cases I found where conferences were held liable for exposing their attendees to dangerous conditions, I think the same argument applies to those conferences that create an environment that exposes people to unhealthy situations, including harm or death from the Coronavirus (COVID-19).

And I’m not alone. For both legal, ethical and health safety reasons, thousands of small and large conferences around the world have been delayed or canceled because of the Coronavirus.

Arnold Schwarzenegger’s rescheduling of his Sports and Fitness Festival is a good example of what’s happening right now. Watch the video.

On Friday, the City of Austin cancelled the March SXSW event. Here’s a list from Thursday’s USA Today, sharing other canceled or rescheduled events.

Tips for Speakers

First, please keep in mind that although I’m a California lawyer, I’m not your lawyer. No legal advice is being given. Also, please understand that the law is different in each state. Federal law is often different than state law.

Now having said that, if I were a speaker who is expected to show up at a high-risk event (any event with international attendees), I would insist that the conference add an indemnification clause to my speaking agreement. What this means is that if I, or anyone on my team, become ill because of the Coronavirus, the event would agree to cover us under its healthcare insurance policy. In the alternative, the event would agree to reimburse us for any out-of-pocket medical expenses, financial losses, and other damages.

For those of you who are professional speakers, and assuming you’re using a professionally prepared speaking agreement (you should be), think about using this global experience as a bit of motivation to include a provision for infectious diseases like the Coronavirus in your agreement.

You should also create and include a new provision setting forth all terms and conditions for cancellations, for any reason, relating to these issues. Are you entitled to be paid if an event is canceled? If the event is unilaterally moved to an online webinar, are you still required to participate? If so, what are the terms and conditions?

Related: Brian Fanzo and Erin King share new and related speaker stage to online transition/presentation ideas in this live video.

Tips for Conference and Event Planners

When selling tickets to attendees, it might be a good idea to include a waiver provision in the ticket sales agreement that expressly waives any and all liability, harm, and damages, an attendee might suffer because of the Coronavirus. The same type of provision should also be used for all persons who volunteer, are paid to work, or who physically have access to the event.

You may also want to make sure that your liability insurance policy includes additional coverage for Coronavirus illness-related issues. Share the latest safety tips at your website and at the event.

Is your property or event location safe? You may want to reach out to Nick Rishwain at to connect and consult with qualified premises liability or infectious disease experts to review your physical location, needs, and safety plans.

Again, the laws are different in each state so please check with a qualified lawyer to get your questions answered or, to help prepare updated documents.

Tips for Attendees

Give serious consideration to whether or not you and your team should attend conferences. If you do, confirm with the conference what safety precautions are being taken.

Inquire about the type of medical and liability insurance event planners have to cover your medical care and treatment. In case of death, what policy limits and benefits are available to your heirs?

Review all conference tickets and attendance agreements to confirm you are not waiving your legal rights. Also review and practice the latest safety precautions (wash hands, don’t touch your mouth, face or eyes…). If you have questions about any of the above, contact your lawyer to get answers.


The law is clear that event holders can be held liable for unnecessarily exposing people to dangerous conditions. Depending on the facts, this may include infectious diseases like the Coronavirus.

Think I’m wrong? Think you’re the exception to the rule? Well, please keep in mind that litigation is time consuming and expensive. You never know what a judge or jury is going to do and how they’re going to decide on the issue of whether or not an event holder placed profits over the safety of people.

With this reality in mind, one or more of the issues, and proposed solutions, I’ve mentioned above may help you and your team move forward in a more informed fashion. Remember, safety first!


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Author: Mitch Jackson

I'm a California trial lawyer trying to fix the world one client, cause, and digital interaction at a time.

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