Last Thursday a 7-year old boy was killed in my hometown 4th of July Parade. He either stepped or fell from a slowly moving parade float and was run over. The EMS teams tried, but the injuries were so severe, he died within an hour. It turned a celebratory evening into one of shock and sadness.
The boy was a participant in the parade. His family owned a company that provides a mobile amusement that allows people to perform wheelies on a tricked out, stationary motorcycle attached to a trailer. In case you thought it could not get any more tragic, the boy’s grandfather was driving the van that was towing the trailer. By all accounts, it was a horrible accident and it could have happened to any of the parade participants. It could have happened to you and your agency if you were in the parade. Regardless of how it happened, the company was immediately thrust into the spotlight in a less than positive way. How would you handle it?
Don’t for a minute think it could not happen to you or your agency. Accidents happen all the time and we have no control over it. A kid spills a drink at a trade show and you do not notice it until an elderly woman slips and breaks her head open on your display. You just finished setting up your booth at the County fair and as you are backing your car out, you rupture the gas line that feeds the fairground. You have a travel night at the local hotel and everyone comes down with food poisoning. And of course, the obvious, something goes horribly wrong for a client on a trip you arranged like the Asiana Airlines crash of this weekend.
There are several steps you can take to mitigate your exposure and damage to your reputation.
- Insure, insure, insure. Make sure you have adequate business liability insurance that also protects you off of your premises and covers the unimaginable. Make sure your clients insure their trips. And, of course, make sure that you have your own Errors & Omissions policy. Be careful with E&O plans provided by hosts—they might not offer the coverage you need.
- Do not apologize. If someone is injured or hurt, it is human nature to apologize. Unfortunately, it is also human nature to sue—or so it seems. And in many cases, and apology can be construed as an admission of liability. Empathize. Offer to get appropriate help. Help if you can and are capable.
- Be prepared for some negative press. While it may be impossible to put positive spins on a tragedy, you can mitigate how your agency appears by the way you handle yourself. If you own a cruise line and your ship is burning in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, don’t sit courtside having a blast at a basketball game—at least don’t get photographed. Even a “no comment” is better than the wrong one. If it is too early in the situation to comment, politely explain that you are not refusing to talk to the press, but need to assimilate all of the facts to be able to speak about the situation authoritatively. When dealing with the press, you want them to understand you want to be cooperative and work with them and not against them. I don’t recommend a straight out “no comment”, but a softer, gentler version.
- Hire a lawyer. Some may suggest this is the first step, but often what starts with a bang, ends with a whimper. If you follow the three steps above, you should still be able to protect yourself is a legal battle ensues. There is no need to waste money on legal representation (unless you retain one) when there may not be a need.
Hopefully, no one will ever be in a situation where you will need to defend your agency and your very reputation in the community. But just remember that strange things can and do happen and as a responsible business owner you need to be prepared!
Have you ever been on the wrong side?