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County reviews insurance coverage
Looks at ways to reduce risk
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The Dawson County commission is examining ways to reduce risks in liability involved with large public gatherings.

During a work session last week, County Manager Cindy Campbell reviewed the existing coverage plan, as well as other possibilities.

"Several times recently, questions have come up about risks for the county at events, whether they are permitted by the county or other entities," Campbell said.

"We are exposed to risks just like any entity would be, but we have additional risks being a county government that is associated with law enforcement and emergency services. We have several insurance policies in place that reduce that risk."

Currently, county property is insured for loss as well as liabilities associated with activities on that property.

"Of course, members of the public are always on our property, whether it is at the courthouse, parks, wherever," she said.

The county also has law enforcement and automobile liability, errors and omissions for public officials, crime coverage and general liability.

According to Campbell, all of this coverage is in place to "reduce the county's risk."

"The exposure to risk is more inherent to the sheriff's office and fire and EMS as first responders," Campbell said.

During the presentation, Commissioner Gary Pichon offered a number of hypothetical situations to get a better grasp of the risks for first responders.

"Let's say we permit a half-marathon in the county," he said. "By that permit, we've said go ahead and do this and they name us as additional insured. Let's say ... a deputy fails to stop a car and a car hits a runner and that person brings suit against the county. Where would the claimant go first - to the sponsor of the race or the county?"

County Attorney Joey Homans helped put the flow of lawsuits into perspective.

"The first target is whatever jurisdiction issued the permit and has control of it," he said. "Then, the sheriff's office would be named separately. The county then becomes involved."

Campbell also addressed liability questions of events in Dawsonville.

"Events held within the city limits ... we don't permit those," she said. "The Moonshine Festival is a good example of that, as is the music and beer festival.

"While we don't permit that, there is a sign-off like when we do permits and our county law enforcement and EMS are utilized, whether we permit it or not."

Commission Chairman Mike Berg weighed in on Pichon's questions, as well.

"The burden would come to where the permit is," he said. "If the city permits this, just like us, they are burdened with the responsibility."

Currently, the county has three main ways of avoiding these risks.

"One of the ways is eliminating or avoiding the risk by requiring that these events have their own security team and only respond to emergencies," Campbell said. "We can also modify or lessen the risks by charging a premium for excess services and use those funds to cover the deductible charges."

One last suggestion by Campbell was to require all events occurring within the county's jurisdiction have the organizers carry their own insurance and name the county as one of the insured in that policy.

"When the city sponsors an event, just because we are not issuing a permit, we don't have that process for them, so there is some additional risk there," she said.

Pichon questioned the ability to just reject events. "Do we have the ability to just say no because we don't want to absorb the liability for the county in the event of an accident?"

But in the end, the discussion came around to civil liberties and permits.

"We've got some limits," Homans said. "You get into what is free speech and what isn't, involving events of parade and free assembly. The law does recognize that if anything interferes with the flow of traffic ... you have to get a permit."

No action was taken during the work session, and the topic is on the agenda for the voting session Thursday.