Risky Business: All expenses paid

Free food and drink all day long is not something usually found at a hotel. At one event that is what most guests received and they weren’t very happy about it.

It was the first day of a week-long event that drew attendees from all across the nation and around the world. One hotel at the resort found itself without electricity — in early June — in the South. There was no air conditioning in the hotel and guests had to be evacuated to a courtyard area where hotel management provided them with free food and drink. Conference rooms scheduled for the event were suddenly unavailable.

A crew from the power company worked to repair the line, but it wasn’t until nearly nine hours later that power was restored to the hotel. The power line had apparently been struck where a rental store was staking and installing a tent.

The rental store, however, did not report a claim to its insurance company. The owner did not feel his employees were responsible for the incident and moved on to the next job without a second thought.

Seven months later, the rental store owner received two letters, one from an attorney representing the event planner and one from an attorney who represented the hotel. Both letters stated that their clients experienced significant economic losses as a result of the power outage. Together they claimed damages — including the cost to repair the power line, food and drink for the evacuated guests, refunds to guests and employees’ lost productivity.

The rental store owner was adamant that he would not accept any responsibility for the situation since his employees followed the instructions of the event planner and the hotel. He did not file a claim with his insurance company until he received the letters of representation from the two law firms.

Seven months had passed and several of the people involved had moved on to other jobs and weren’t available to answer questions. Those who could be located offered the following description of events.

Rental store employees were asked to move a tent from its original location at the last minute. The installers questioned a hotel maintenance employee about underground utilities and were told that no cables or pipes were in the new location. Since time was running short, the employees went on the word of the maintenance man and began the process of relocating the tent. The first stake that was driven into the ground struck an electric cable and caused the power outage.

When the hotel maintenance employee was questioned about his part in the incident, he denied telling the tent installation crew that there were no underground utilities in the new location and that they could proceed. Because so much time had passed after the event, it was difficult to find anyone who had witnessed the conversation.

In the state where this occurred, there is a law that requires both private and public utilities to be marked at least two days in advance of any digging, staking or trenching. The rental store had all of the proper permits for the original layout, but not for the revised location of the tent.

The event planner, hotel and organizers were eventually paid more than $100,000 in damages by the rental store’s insurance company. If the tent installers had refused to move the tent until the underground lines could be marked, there may not have been any damage to the property.

You can avoid accidents by simply requesting to have the ground marked for underground utilities. Too often this request is never made. Oversights can lead to expensive and time consuming claims.

Make sure a call is placed before you dig or stake and have the ground clearly marked for underground utilities. This will help protect the utilities on your customer’s property as well as keep your employees safe from injury. Even if your contract requires the renter to have lines marked, if it is not done and a line is damaged, you will be held responsible.

The national “Call Before You Dig” number is 811. They will assist in getting utilities marked before you dig, stake or trench. You also can contact the service via the Internet at call811.com.

Mary Ann Gormly, CERP, is risk management coordinator for ARA Insurance, Kansas City, Mo. For more information, call 800-821-6580
or visit ARAinsure.com.