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[TCML] liability and tc filming
Peter Terren wrote:
I did 4 segments for Discovery Canada and there was NO need for any
insurance. There was some disclaimer that if I killed myself it wasn't
their fault. (for the first episode anyway). Filming was done locally
and there was no contractual arrangement with me. The cameraman got paid
directly by them. The videos got sent and got used. Interviews were
done over a mobile phone which worked out fine. No degree required. I
have two but they are the wrong sort!
Discovery would have had no liability in this case as the connection to
me was tenuous and non-contractual. Being in another country may have
Nevertheless Discovery got their stuff and I got my stuff shown so
everyone was happy. No one had to do any travel. Even worked with a
tight time schedule from shooting to editing, production and screening
in 7 days for the Xmas one.
this topic comes up in one form or another about once a year (guessing..
I didn't search the archives..)
As Peter points out, he was in Australia.. different laws, different
philosophies, different payment systems for health care, different
per-capita ratio of attorneys
As it has been informally explained to me by a variety of attorneys,
here's the basic scoop..
1) If you're fooling around in your garage, and decide to run your tesla
coil or fire your rocket motor or drive your drag bike around the
backyard, and YOU get hurt or burn the house down.. it's between you and
2) If you do #1, and you invite your neighbors over to watch (check out
my new scramjet!), and one trips over the fuel line... it's your
liability coverage (homeowners insurance typically) that deals with it.
If you're a renter with no insurance, you might wind up both poor and
homeless after your landlord evicts you for cause.
3) If you do these things in an environment that isn't a casual invite
the neighbors over situation, say, you show it off for a bunch of school
kids (Career day!)... it starts to get stickier. Typically, the school
would carry insurance (or self insure) for these sorts of things, and as
long as they took "reasonable and prudent" measures, they're probably
ok. Note that in some states (e.g. California), there's a pretty low
limit for a public school's liability (a few $10K), and for the parents
liability for acts of their child (your kid's tesla coil burns down the
school and electrocutes half the staff.. you're probably not liable for
more than $10K or 20K) (this is how kids can do science fair projects
for things that an adult might not be able to do)
However, if you're doing the demo in a non-school setting (schools have
special rules), say, something like demonstrating model rockets for the
local boy scout troop at the park, your liability is probably unlimited.
Sure, it's unlikely anything will go wrong, but if it does, and you're
at fault, you're going to be on the hook. This would apply for any
casual bystanders as well (e.g. if the local news station was there
filming you and the boy scouts, and the rocket went awry and hit the
cameraman.. the cameraman gets to recover from you)
The folks who own the park may ask you for a certificate of insurance,
if it's any sort of organized activity (as opposed to you dragging your
20 foot trebuchet down the street and attracting a parade of interested
observers like the Pied Piper of Hamelin). To that end, many organized
dangerous activities have blanket liability insurance for their
members.. NAR for rockets, for instance, AMA for R/C airplanes, but they
also require certain rules and procedures, etc.
4) If someone asks you to demonstrate your dangerous thing, and you do
it, it gets even hazier. There might be an implied contract here
(issues of offer and acceptance as well as consideration), and in doing
so, the other party might have accepted some of the responsibility
(unless you explicitly accepted it), since you're to a certain extent
acting as their "agent". It's not as clear cut as if they hired you as
an employee to do this (in which case, they're clearly on the hook, as
long as you were doing what your job said it was).
Does it matter if no money changes hands? Not necessarily. That's the
whole consideration for contract thing. (consult your attorney, in other
5) Occupational exposure. You're hired to build and/or operate some
machine and people's jobs require that they be near the machine. Here,
it gets really sticky. That other person is required to expose
themselves to the danger as a part of their job, so if they get hurt,
they can claim against the employer, and, in general, your contract will
hopefully indemnify you (i.e. the employer accepts the liability). The
injured employee (or bystander, or paying customer at the show) recovers
from the income and assets of the company.
OTOH, what if (as is the case in the entertainment industry), the
employer hires most of their staff as contractors, and has very little
assets in themselves. Someone gets hurt (or thinks they might be hurt).
They go to their insurance company and get treated. Their insurance
company goes to recover, if they can, from anyone else likely. That is
usually the production company. But, maybe the production company has
ceased to exist (since most of them are created for the duration of one
production) or has no real assets (other than a potential income stream
from whatever it was they produced.. sure.. lots of money there.. read
up on "net points" or "recoupment"). Then, the insurance company (who's
out the cash already) starts looking for other potential sources of
reimbursement (the whole process is called subrogation).
(As wikipedia says, "the basic concept is straightforward, but it is
considered a highly technical area of the law")
What's the take home message here...
Go have fun with your tesla coil.
If someone asks you to run your tesla coil, it's time to start at least
thinking about liability exposure.
If *someone else is getting paid* in connection with you running your
tesla coil, you MUST think about liability exposure. Where there is
potential profit, there is potential risk.
If YOU are getting paid to run your tesla coil, you probably have
liability exposure, and you need to think about insurance.
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