When Happy Cookies Lead To Bad Decisions!

By Brian Taylor Goldstein, Esq.   

We recently had an incident where the Executive Director of an organization that presented one of our artists gave him a cookie with a controlled substance in it at a reception after the performance. Admittedly, the substance was legal in the presenter’s state, but it made the artist (who was young and didn’t think to ask) very ill. The artist recovered and because nothing serious happened, we didn’t want to make too big of a deal out of it because we frequently book artists with this presenter. However, it got us thinking, are we liable if someone injures one of our artists at an engagement?

As you can imagine, while we have the privilege of working with some of the most respected professionals in the arts industry, we are also often confronted with the denizens of the lower fathoms of the gene pool: from the children’s theater who knowingly hired an actor listed on a sexual predator list (because the Artistic Director agreed to “keep an eye on him”!) to a diva who offered an immigration officer sexual favors in exchange for letting her into the US without a visa (cash would have been more prudent!) And now, we can nominate this Executive Director for this year’s award. He or she has demonstrated not merely a lack of judgment, but a lack of common sense at the most basic and rudimentary level, putting everyone at risk.

Offering an artist, or anyone, candy or food containing any substance not reasonably expected to be in food not only constitutes a reckless disregard for safety, but could also constitute criminal negligence. What if the artist had been on medication that interacted with the illegal substance? Or what if the artist had an allergy? Had, God forbid, the artist died as a result, this would have constituted a felony. It has nothing to do about the legality or illegality of the particular substance. Glass is legal, but you can’t put broken glass into a cupcake without a label saying “Warning, this cupcake contains bits of glass.” The fact that the artist was young and didn’t think to ask is also irrelevant. No one, child or adult, is expected to ask: “Excuse me, are their drugs in this cookie?” It’s one thing if someone is allergic to peanuts or is lactose intolerant. More or less, it’s up to them to make the necessary enquiries. However, it’s another scenario entirely if someone is offered aspirin, snake venom, staples, paper clips, or bat wings—all of which are legal substances—masquerading as common baked goods.

It’s great that the artist recovered and was not seriously ill. And I’m not suggesting that you overreact. However, you also can’t simply ignore the situation. Moreover, as an artist representative with a legal, as well as moral and ethical, duty to protect the interests of your artist above all others, which do you think takes precedence: your own, personal and professional relationship with the presenter or the fact that the presenter could have killed your artist? (Don’t answer this. Its rhetorical.)

You are not liable if one of your artists gets injured at an engagement unless you knowingly expose them to a risk, disregard a negligent or dangerous situation, or otherwise fail to exercise a reasonable duty of care. Assuming you or your organization had no reason to suspect that the Executive Director was dabbling in kitchen chemistry, then you would not be liable. However, should you book another artist with this presenter, and should this same Executive Director offer another artist a “happy cookie”, causing another artist to get sick, and you failed to warn your artist in advance not to eat anything, then by disregarding the prior situation, and knowingly exposing your artist to a potentially dangerous encounter, not only would your organization be liable, but you could be personally liable as well.

At the very least, assuming the presenting organization is a non-profit, you should contact the Chairman of the Board and let them know what happened. It would then be the responsibility of the Board of Directors either to fire the Executive Director or take steps to prevent a future occurrence. If the board decides that having an Executive Director who makes terrible decisions is the right person for the post of ultimate decision maker, and this happens again, then not only would the presenting organization be liable, but the individual members of its Board of Directors could be liable as well. Arts organizations, both for-profit and non-profit, should be organizations that foster, encourage, and support the very best and brightest in our industry, not refuges that provide job security to those who simply can’t find employment elsewhere.


For additional information and resources on this and otherGG_logo_for-facebook legal and business issues for the performing arts, visit ggartslaw.com

To ask your own question, write to lawanddisorder@musicalamerica.org.

All questions on any topic related to legal and business issues will be welcome. However, please post only general questions or hypotheticals. GG Arts Law reserves the right to alter, edit or, amend questions to focus on specific issues or to avoid names, circumstances, or any information that could be used to identify or embarrass a specific individual or organization. All questions will be posted anonymously and/or posthumously.




The purpose of this blog is to provide general advice and guidance, not legal advice. Please consult with an attorney familiar with your specific circumstances, facts, challenges, medications, psychiatric disorders, past-lives, karmic debt, and anything else that may impact your situation before drawing any conclusions, deciding upon a course of action, sending a nasty email, filing a lawsuit, or doing anything rash!


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