Public dance licenses: is liability insurance required? – Laws and insurance products

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In a case declared by the District Court, the High Court determined that possession of liability insurance is not a prerequisite for obtaining a public dancing licence.

Background

This case involved an application for a public dancing license by the Neville Hotels Unlimited Company (“the applicant“) in respect of Druids Glen Hotel and Golf Resort in County Wicklow pursuant to the Public Ballrooms Act 1935 as amended (“the law of 1935”).

The Claimant is part of the Neville Group (“the group”), which operates in the corporate, construction and hospitality sectors. Until April 30, 2020, the Group had maintained civil liability insurance for certain civil liability risks, including those arising from its hotel business. From May 1, 2020, it has decided to self-insure against these risks. Her reason for doing so was that in recent years her policy deductible had been such that she had paid all claims out of her own resources and self-insured anyway.

In this context, the petitioner applied to the district court for a public dancing license. It has stated that it has sufficient cash, assets and reserves to fully and effectively insure itself against all liability risks that may arise from any dancing at its hotels. The Gardaí, which was a notified party to the application, argued that it was normal for an applicant to provide proof of liability insurance from an authorized third-party insurance provider when applying for a license to public dance.

District Court Judge Kennedy presented a case on a point of law to the High Court. He asked the High Court to consider two issues. The first concerned the question of whether an applicant for a public dancing license under the 1935 Act had to carry liability insurance before a license could be granted. The second was whether the District Court was empowered to grant a public dancing license under the 1935 Act, without making it conditional on the petitioner carrying and maintaining a liability insurance policy.

Party positions

The parties were essentially in agreement on the substance of the responses, accepting that liability insurance is not a legal requirement. However, they placed a different emphasis on correct answers to the questions posed, with state respondents particularly emphasizing serious public safety issues related to public dance halls emphasizing the importance of liability insurance.

Liability insurance obligation

Justice Dignam reviewed the statutory interpretation of the 1935 Act and concluded that the law did not require a plaintiff to carry liability insurance.

The court found that the law does not require an applicant for a public dancing license to carry liability insurance in circumstances where he can satisfy the district court that he would otherwise be able to compensate those who could be harmed. The court also noted that the district court had the discretion to impose a condition that a plaintiff must hold such a policy after hearing evidence of his financial circumstances.

The questions posed above were therefore answered “no” and “yes” respectively.

Comment

As the High Court commented, it seems “extremely likely that very few candidates” would be able to satisfy the court that they have sufficient resources to satisfy any claims against them from their own resources.

It is up to the district court to decide whether or not they are satisfied with a claimant’s financial situation, including their proposals for self-insurance or satisfaction of claims from their own assets/resources. If this is not the case, the district court may impose on a plaintiff/licensee a condition that an appropriate liability insurance policy is in place.

The authors would like to thank Jack Doyle for his contribution to this article.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide on the subject. Specialist advice should be sought regarding your particular situation.

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