Beautiful young women dressed up in colorful dresses with fancy shoes and hair and makeup that would be appropriate for any red-carpet appearance. Young men looking sharp in tuxes and shiny shoes. Yes, high school prom season is upon us. Our hopes are that our children will have a wonderful experience filled with great memories, as many of us did.
A lot of us borrowed the family car for our prom. Today, there are many options, ranging from the family minivan to Uber to a limo to a party bus. We can have all of our students on one bus. Parents agree they like the idea — get these kids off the streets and give them a safe experience. Money is collected; the bus is reserved, and prom night arrives.
As the door closes on the party bus, one question remains: Who is liable for what happens there?
A teenager from New Jersey was killed on a party bus when he stuck his head through an escape door on the roof of the bus as it passed under a bridge. A young woman in Kansas died when she was thrown from a party bus after it hit a bump while rounding a curve. The Los Angeles Times examined the question of liability in 2014 after three high-profile accidents involving party buses in Southern California in a year (http://tinyurl.com/LA-party-bus).
The contract of one party bus service here in the Twin Cities clearly states that clients are responsible for all guests, on board the bus and off. The contract states that the bus service is not liable for anything. It goes on to state that the client is also responsible for all damages to the vehicle caused by anyone during the reservation (http://tinyurl.com/party-bus-contract).
Contacting an attorney and your insurance carrier or agent to have them review this document before signing might be a good first step before you sign off on all of this responsibility.
A lot of people assume their current insurance would cover activities on a party bus. Check again. Which policy do you own that covers a party bus that you rent for your son or daughter and their friends for prom? Most homeowners’ policies do not. Your car insurance does not cover it. Most people rent these party buses with no adequate insurance coverage. Again, check with your insurance agent before you sign, and have an attorney advise you on how to work with the matters of risk.
One other matter to review and cover with the other parents and party bus company is the issue of social-host laws that some communities now have. Such laws in St. Paul and other communities place an adult — such as the bus driver or the parent who signed the agreement for the party bus event — liable. They can be fined or jailed if minors are found to be drinking alcohol.
The hope is for our young people to have a fun, safe prom. They still can, but changes in how we do things require us to be more proactive in communication and planning with other parents as we work out the details of this experience. It just takes a little more homework to work out who is liable.
John Potts, of Vadnais Heights, is executive director of Youth Enterprise, a nonprofit organization.