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Any help on protection the Club from liability?

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hello all,

We have a young Homebrew Club in Virginia and were looking to start getting organized. And with that, the Bylaws and rules are needing to be solidified.

The one thing that we are struggling with is how to go about protecting the Club and our host Homebrew Shop against liability. And how to word it in a way that is not too extremely restrictive.

And... really does any of that hold any weight when it comes to the legality of it? I mean sure it helps to set the expectations of members and all that, but does it actually protect anything when it really comes down to it?

I'd hate to have to go the route of looking at liability insurance. And i'd hope we would never have to need it. But as we all know, anywhere where Alcohol is consumed, some folks get stupid. I get the fact that the Club is there to make sure that doesn't happen, but I still worry about trying to do our best to make sure that we do everything we can to make sure we are protected.

Does anyone have any key things that we could add into our Bylaws that would assist in this?

Note: he have not yet had any issues with this.



Bruce B:
Bylaws actually serve two purposes.  One is a framework for the club to operate within.  Things like how much can be spent before a membership vote is required, membership fee collection, etc.

The second is that bylaws are usually a requirement for the incorporation process.  The government likes to see that there is a a formal organization structure (Prez, Vice Prez, etc).  They also like to see some kind of rules around financial management and your club has to have some kind of non-discrimination clause.

You can find the Baron's bylaws, org structure, and non-discrimination statement here:

Some things you should know regarding the Barons.  We have a membership of about 200 members, our monthly meetings have an average attendance of about 100, we run a 600 attendee beer festival annually, manage a second beer festival for a major local craft beer distributor, run bus trips to 2 major beer festivals in the area annually, have an annual club picnic with large amounts of homebrew, run 2 homebrew competitions, and host several educational workshops (brewing, judging, etc) that are open to the public throughout the year.  Not trying to brag, just disclosing this in case people think our bylaws are overkill.

My suggestion would be to grab someone else's bylaws, trim them down to meet your needs, approve them, and then start the incorporation process.  Bylaws change over time based on need so they are truly never done and can always be revised.

Regarding protection, without incorporation if anything happens individuals are the only ones that someone could sue.  The idea behind incorporating is that if something happens the liability can shift to the organizational entity and away from the individuals.  The organizational entity can also qualify for insurance which could cover the cost of legal fees should anything happen. 

Hope this helps.

Our club has rudimentary (and out-dated) bylaws, but we never incorporated.  The only reason we have a federal Tax ID number is because we needed it to open a checking account.  Sheesh, we even have a PayPal account linked to it.

Nothing I'm aware of in the law requires us to incorporate. We don't ever report squat to either the state or the feds.  In Maryland, we are an unincorporated association.  In 18 years, we have seen no reason to either incorporate or get liability insurance, except to spend time, money, and frayed nerves on things that are the exact opposite of fun.  We have somewhere around 80 members, and I promise that not one of them wants to spend even a minute filling out tax/information returns to the state or to the feds, or keeping the records necessary to do that.  We almost did it a year or so ago because one of us  ::) thought it might be cool to get organizational license plates with our logo from the state, but the feeling passed at seeing the daunting paperwork. 

We do many things as a club, but most all of our alcohol-related events are at members' homes.  At least in Maryland, there is no host liability for alcohol-related incidents if someone leaves an event impaired and causes damage or injury.  That's not to say we are cavalier about that, because we're not and we very much look out for each other.  But it just is not a matter of either individual or club liability to us.

We do public brewing demonstrations and run a competition at an annual beer festival.  We're not serving or giving away homebrew to the public, just making it.  We're there at the invitation/request of the event host and property owner.  They have insurance for the event which will respond if someone gets scalded by boiling wort.  But if someone among us acts negligently or recklessly and causes harm and gets sued personally, I supposed it's conceivable that it's their homeowner policy's baby as well as the event host's.  We're just not worried about it.  Someone could probably make an argument to make me reconsider these positions, but at least for now, I've said my piece and counted to three.

We like spending our scarce club resources on fun stuff like food for club events, subsidizing the cost of club t-shirts and tasting mugs, paying members' costs for taking the local BJCP exam prep course, paying for a communal brewing and dining site at BrewCamp, paying for our web domain, and of course, hauling the best beers to be tasted in the whole room at Club Night next year in Philly.


[The lawyer in me reminds me to say that this is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice.  Seek competent legal counsel in your own state, for your own unique circumstances.  Everyone has to find their own comfort level with this issue in order to be able to sleep at night.  We've found ours.]

a witty man:
Our club, the Albany Brew Crafters, just completed the incorporation process and received our tax ID number this week.

We found that, although comprehensive, our by-laws, club charter, and release form does nothing to legally protect us from liability. We incorporated because we needed a tax ID to open a club bank account, and because we want the legal protection when it comes down to events. As far as I understand it, this means if we are sued the only money at risk is money associated with the club, not any of the officers' individual investments, etc.

Like Bruce suggested above, we grabbed a couple of examples of by-laws and adapted them to our purpose. Check out this thread for some great examples -- we leaned heavily on the Maltose Falcons' charter when designing our own (cheers to the Falcons!).

After we had the by-laws, there was some paperwork we had to do with the state (New York), and a one-time $70 fee. It took about 2 weeks to get the paperwork and tax id. Now we're incorporated as a not-for-profit organization. We have to file taxes every year, but because our club is so small and currently has next-to-no revenue, we won't end up paying anything this year. We placed the tax responsibility with our "Brewsar" (treasurer). We're hoping our incorporation also attracts more local business sponsors and helps to grow the club a bit.

Federal non-profit status, which allows businesses or individuals to use club donations as a tax write-off, is a whole different ball-game, and not one we are pursuing at this point.

Jimmy K:

--- Quote from: a witty man on September 07, 2012, 01:16:58 PM ---Federal non-profit status, which allows businesses or individuals to use club donations as a tax write-off, is a whole different ball-game, and not one we are pursuing at this point.

--- End quote ---

Most clubs won't qualify as a charitable organization anyway. However, businesses can pretty much write off anything they want as a business expense. If a shop wants to donate some merchandise, they can write it off as a marketing expense.


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