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Tours in Trouble: Rock Stars and Insurance Recovery

Touring is where profits lie for today’s successful recording artists, with considerable sums expended on venues and staging to bring an artist’s music to his or her fans. But the list of things that can go wrong before and during a tour is almost endless.

That’s why artists, tour companies, and record labels purchase various forms of tour insurance to mitigate the risk from postponements or cancelations caused by a variety of circumstances. Often, those purchasing tour insurance have considerable influence over what harms are covered and the terms under which reimbursement will be provided. Unforeseen disasters can result in losses to the tune of millions of dollars if proper insurance is not obtained and handled carefully.

Three sources of tour insurance claims are particularly important: natural disasters, terrorism, and artist illness. As we outline below, tour profitability depends upon understanding these threats and choosing effective strategies to mitigate them or avoid them entirely.

Coverage for Natural Disasters

Just like any other event, tours planned months or years in advance are susceptible to natural disasters such as earthquakes, hurricanes, and floods. However, even when tour insurance is purchased, receiving coverage for tour cancelations or postponements on this basis is not automatic.

For example, many “non-appearance” insurance policies contain exclusions that could be construed to eliminate coverage for certain kinds of disasters. One such provision is the “adverse weather” exclusion, which commonly excludes coverage for outdoor performances affected by rain, wind, or other similar meteorological incidents. Also common is language restricting coverage to certain enumerated perils and requiring that a covered peril be the “sole and direct cause” of any non-appearance. How such policy language is interpreted in the case of a hurricane or tropical storm, for instance, may make the difference as to whether an artist is compensated under his or her tour insurance policy.

Coverage for Acts of Terrorism

Just as threatening to tour profits as natural disasters are those postponements or cancelations caused by acts of terror. The attacks in Las Vegas during Jason Aldean’s performance, those in Manchester, England outside Ariana Grande’s show, and those at the Eagles of Death Metal performance at the Bataclan club in Paris, France highlight that terrorism is a very real threat to music artists.

However, even if an artist’s tour is insured, acts of terrorism are often excluded unless specifically added by an amendment to insurance policies called an endorsement, which can be quite expensive.  Moreover, terrorism coverage policy language varies, with certain provisions requiring an attack to have taken place, whereas others provide coverage if a tour is postponed or canceled based on the threat of an attack. Still other policies that purport to cover cancellations due to terrorist acts limit coverage based on how long after or how far away from an attack or threatened attack the tour is scheduled to take place. For instance, the Foo Fighters canceled the remainder of their European tour in Spain and Italy in the wake of the Paris bombing in 2015. However, the Foo Fighters’ insurers initially refused to reimburse them for these losses under their applicable tour insurance policies (which included terrorism coverage), apparently because the insurers considered the future shows too far away from the date and site of the Paris attack. After much publicity and costly litigation, the lawsuit was eventually settled on confidential terms.

Coverage for Artist Illness

Tour events are also canceled due to artist illness. Often, an insurer’s response to a claim based on artist illness depends on the nature of the illness and what the artist said in underwriting materials submitted to the insurers.  It is not uncommon for coverage disputes to center around the accuracy of medical reports submitted by artists to insurers. For instance, Linkin Park canceled parts of a tour in 2008 due to their then-frontman’s back issues. Nickelback was forced to cancel part of their 2015 No Fixed Address tour due to polyps discovered on their lead singer’s throat  In both instances, the bands’ tour insurance claims were denied based on alleged inaccurate medical reporting in the underwriting materials submitted to the insurers. And in both cases, the bands were forced to resort to litigation based upon alleged failures to disclose existing medical issues.

Sometimes, an artist’s tour is postponed or canceled but the artist and insurers do not agree on the cause. Not surprisingly, this can lead to coverage disputes.  For example, Kanye West’s cancelation of his 2016 Saint Pablo tour resulted in two lawsuits, with West claiming he suffered a “debilitating medical condition” and his insurers insinuating the cancelation was due to drug use and mental health issues (both of which were excluded under the policy). The last of the suits ultimately settled in February 2018, but not before myriad news outlets reported on the parties’ allegations, including leaked details about West’s medical history.

Strategies to Mitigate or Avoid Coverage Threats 

These examples only scratch the surface of the many reasons a tour may be postponed or canceled, and the ways in which this can complicate insurance recovery.  Different strategies should be applied depending on individual challenges, but all involve careful scrutiny of the governing policy language.  The best time for such scrutiny is during negotiation of the policy itself, when experienced counsel can advise on coverage gaps or language that might cause trouble for touring artists.

Also key is carefully shaping the public narrative for any tour postponement or cancelation. This is particularly true in the context of postponements or cancelations where the cause may be disputed.  Effective counsel can assist in rapidly coordinating the actions of doctors, the media, and the artist to ensure a consistent message and head off potential pretextual coverage denials from insurers.

As the Ramones sang, “high risk insurance, the time is right.”

© 2022 Gilbert LLPNational Law Review, Volume IX, Number 140

About this Author

Benjamin Massarsky Insurance Litigation Lawyer

Benjamin joined Gilbert as an associate in 2017. His practice focuses on representing policyholders in complex civil litigation and dispute resolution. He has represented policyholders in disputes over numerous types of coverage, including general commercial liability policies, political risk policies, and non-appearance policies. Prior to joining Gilbert, Benjamin was an associate at a prominent Washington, D.C. litigation boutique.

Benjamin has an active pro bono practice in which he represents students with special education needs and assists them in obtaining appropriate...

Kellyn Goler Insurance Attorney

Kellyn litigates in both state and federal courts on behalf of policyholders seeking recovery under aviation, directors and officers, commercial general liability, and other lines of insurance. Kellyn also advises clients regarding risk management and insurance recovery strategies that extend beyond litigation.

Prior to joining Gilbert LLP, Kellyn was an associate at an Am Law 5 firm in Washington, DC, where she represented clients in connection with government investigations and complex civil litigation.