Event Litigation … from a Trial Lawyer’s Vantage Point
Few factors are as important as the content of your paper trail.
The best view of an event’s operations is often the one a lawyer sees during litigation. Everyone has to answer our questions under oath; we can demand any document we want to see; and we are not distracted by having to deal with live artists or patrons. Having just had a significant case reach a deservedly favorable settlement, here are a few observations from my vantage point.
Communications Are Key
Of course it is important for operations people to be in touch with each other during an event. But the paper trail you leave is what everyone else will see if your show becomes the subject of litigation.
Neatness counts. This is more than just process. If the only incident reports or other records are sloppy, hand-written drafts, it raises the question of how conscientiously your policies and procedures were really followed. Incident management reporting software makes it easy to create organized records with correct spelling and grammar. This is a good investment that helps show that your events are run professionally.
Emails are future headlines. In news stories from doping to bridge closures, we are reminded every day that there is no such thing as truly “internal communication.” In a lawsuit, every snarky line you write about a show is subject to a subpoena or request for production of documents. There is only so much a lawyer can do to explain away a comment by your team that exposes a flaw in your event plan, especially if that flaw allegedly plays a role in a subsequent mishap. If you are a wise guy, or if you work with people who have critical comments about your operational decisions, please, please, share them orally, not in writing. FYI, text messages count as “writing.”
Show Your Learning Curve
After-action reports. Even for events that go perfectly, there are usually lessons to be applied to future shows. Especially in our typically overscheduled existence, it is valuable to get your team to do a brain dump before they turn their attention to the next big thing. These are the types of documents you do want to have in your file, not only because you will take the time to make them look and sound intelligent, but also because they will show that you are making a reasonable effort to learn from the past. And we do want to be reasonable, don’t we?
Preparation Leads to Good Things
You did not see an “Adelman on Venues” in December because I was immersed in trial preparation for the case that just settled. I triaged my practice and moved everything else to the back burner even though I know from experience that few large civil cases go to trial, for the reasons articulated nicely in this excerpt from the movie, A Civil Action.
We must all do the same sort of mental gymnastics. Most of the time, nothing bad happens, whether we do our best or not. It makes little difference if your motivation is fear of disaster, having to answer for your mistakes under oath, or, as in my case, wanting to validate the expectations of people who turned to me for help in an important legal action. You prepare to take the battle to the very end precisely because that puts you in the best position to not have to, and to control your own destiny rather than leaving it up to strangers.
While I was personally disappointed on Friday night that I wouldn’t get to deliver what was going to be an effective opening statement, I believe the other lawyers blinked because they knew the case would go badly for them if they dared take it to a jury. The knowledge that we were ready to kick their butts allowed us to settle on favorable terms. This makes me feel good. And if you have a few minutes the next time we’re together, there is a story I’m ready to tell.