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BSA Sued over Lightening Death

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http://www.mcall.com/news/local/all-b5-3lightning-5rjun09,0,163436.story

June 9, 2006

Negligence charged in Scout camp death

Trial starts in family's lawsuit over teen who died after lightning strike in Monroe.

By Wayne Parry Of The Associated Press

| Boy Scout leaders knew a lightning storm was near a Pennsylvania camp when they dismissed 350 Scouts from a dining hall to their tents, then lied about it after lightning killed a 16-year-old Scout, a lawyer for the victim's family said Thursday.

 

In a trial that will challenge the Boy Scouts of America's policy on lightning safety at camps across the country, the family of Matthew Tresca claims he would still be alive had leaders at the camp near East Stroudsburg heeded repeated warnings that a dangerous storm was approaching.

''We contend this story, that it was a blue sky and there was only lightning to the southeast, is a fabrication,'' said lawyer Peter Korn during his opening statement in state Superior Court. ''We contend that fabrication was created by them to cover their failure that night, and deceive ultimately you, as a jury.''

 

The lawsuit involves the Aug. 2, 2002, death of Tresca, a Boy Scout from Clifton who was at a one-week summer camp in the Pocono Mountains with about 300 other Scouts.

 

According to court documents, the National Weather Service had warned throughout the afternoon of severe weather in the area of the Resica Falls Scout reservation in Monroe County. At the end of supper, with lightning visible in the distance, Scout leaders dismissed the boys from the dining hall and sent them to their campsites in the woods.

 

About 7 p.m., lightning struck a tent pole near the picnic table where Tresca was sitting under a tarp. He went into cardiac arrest and was pronounced dead within 90 minutes.

 

Tresca's parents are suing the Boy Scouts and the Scout council that ran the Pennsylvania camp, alleging that proper training and planning would have kept the boys longer in the shelter of the dining hall and prevented Tresca's death.

 

The Boy Scouts deny negligence. Scout leaders have blamed the boy's death on a ''rogue lightning bolt'' coming from skies that appeared to be clearing. National Scout officials say they work hard to provide safety information to local Scout councils, and trust council staff to apply it as necessary. Scout camps are attended by more than 1 million children a year.

 

An Associated Press investigation found that since 1995, seven Scouts and Scout leaders have been killed and about 50 hurt in 15 lightning incidents at Scout camps or on expeditions.

 

In addition to the Boy Scouts of America, the Trescas are suing the Philadelphia-based Cradle Of Liberty Council, a geographical subdivision of the parent organization, and three Scouting employees.

 

Korn said the National Weather Service had been issuing bulletins all day about the likelihood of lightning in the area.

 

''The storm was real and it was headed straight for Resica Falls,'' he said. ''It was into this scene that Matthew and the 350 other Scouts were sent by these gentlemen here. This case is about the horrendous decision that was made that night to send these kids from the dining hall into the teeth of that storm.''

 

Richard Grossman, the lawyer for the Boy Scouts of America, said the national organization provides advice and guidance about outdoor safety, but leaves it to local councils to develop plans specific to their camps.

 

''The Boy Scouts of America cannot stop lightning from happening,'' he said. ''They can try to reduce the risk, and that's what they have tried to do. For me to sit here and listen to Mr. Korn tell you that these people in the Boy Scouts of America don't care about Matthew Tresca or people hit by lightning is just outright wrong.

 

''They looked at the sky and looked at the weather and collectively decided that the danger had passed,'' Grossman said. ''The Boy Scouts of America was not in any way negligent or irresponsible. They did not shirk their known responsibility to try to make Scouting as safe as possible.''

 

Lawyers for both sides estimate the trial could last four to five weeks.

 

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"About 7 p.m., lightning struck a tent pole near the picnic table where Tresca was sitting under a tarp. He went into cardiac arrest and was pronounced dead within 90 minutes."

 

 

Well, if I were on that jury, it would be a non-starter.

 

So what if a thunderstorm comes up at 2 am (as they frequently do at our camp along the river), are we supposed to get everybody up and make a mad dash for the safety of the dining hall? The past couple of evenings, we have had thunderstorms all night long...should we keep them in the dining hall all night?

 

I'm truly sorry that a Scout died. But it was clearly an "act of God". The only way to mitigate that risk is to keep your kid home.

 

Sheesh.

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I agree scoutldr.

 

My only question is why did they send them to their tents if they were indoors already?

 

Ed Mori

Troop 1

1 Peter 4:10

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Right or wrong, here's how the case will go:

 

Judge: Where is your WRITTEN procedure for what to do during thunderstroms?

 

BSA: Our what?

 

Judge: Ruling is for the plaintiffs.

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Ed - they weren't "sent to their tents" they were "sent to their campsites" which, I believe, happens after dinner at most scout camps every night.

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Saintcad -

 

The BSA does have recommended procedures. As I understand it, each camp adapts it for their particular situation (geography of camp, size of facilities, etc.).

 

These procedures are changed from time to time based upon the best knowledge and information we have. For example, our camp has changed the severe weather procedures from "meet at the dining hall" to "meet at the prescribed shelter located near your campsite".

 

Clearly, this article is written from one perspective. That is not unusual for these types of lawsuits. The defendant rarely goes public with their defense before the trial. The press will certainly eat this up and the BSA should probably work on how to address this publically.

 

If the lawyers and anti-scout folks have their way, we'll eventually be an indoor, crafts & cookies program. No wonder membership is slipping.

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Yah, SaintCad, it's a jury trial, eh?

 

It's hard to find negligence here unless all outdoors activities are negligent. The NWS issuing a thunderstorm watch for an area? Most of us mow our lawns half da time under thunderstorm watches.

 

I feel for the family in their grief. But the paintiffs wouldn't want me on the jury.

 

 

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I do truly feel sorry for the family on their tragic loss. I also feel sorry that they have hired an ambulance chaser with a strong flair for theatrics to represent them.

The post that mentioned "written procedure" offers an unfortunate (for BSA) outcome to the case. Which may be how it plays out. Documentation is found in the section of Business 101 entitled "Cover Your Rear".

 

 

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"Where is your WRITTEN procedure for what to do during thunderstroms?"

 

Hmmm... that would be found, written, in the Guide to Safe Scouting, under the heading "Lightning Safety Rules". Was there a violation??

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Above and beyond G2SS here are National Camp Standards and the local Scout Reservation implementation procedures.

 

I'm not a lawyer, nor do I play one on TV, but the BFO here is that the newspaper article does not begin to give us all the data.

 

We'll just have to wait and see now.

 

Anyone care to bet any currently registered Scouters would be excluded for cause during voir dire?

 

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Thanks awheck. My Troop does patrol cooking.

 

But if they knew the storm was coming, why not let everyone stay in the dining hall till it passed?

 

FScouter is on the money! The G2SS has procedures for this.

 

Ed Mori

Troop 1

1 Peter 4:10

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I got out my Camp School binder to check on this. According to the 2005 standards, a written emergency plan is required of all council-organized camps.

 

Standard M7: Written plans for handling emergencies such as floods, storms, tornadoes, fires, accidents, intrusion of unauthorized personnel, lost children, security, sickness and fatality are on hand and have been shared with adult participants. An "as built" drawing or drawings are availible showing all electric, gas, water and sewer systems and lines, with locations of shut-off swithces or valves should service need to be interrupted.

 

While I am not familiar with the 2002 standards, I do believe that the same standard was in place. As to the content or competency of the camp's emergency plan, I'll leave that up to the court.

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I apologize, the standard I posted was for council-run family camps. The 2005 standard for Cub and Boy Scout Resident Camps is M-6.

 

Standard M-6: "Written plans for handling major emergencies are reviewed and practiced with camp staff. These plans are kept on file in the camp and council offices, are shared weekly with leaders in camp, and include specific safety measures applicable to the camp location. Plans include safety measure for:

 

Lost or missing persons

 

Limitation on physical activity in high temperatures and high humidity

 

Limitation on physical activity during smog alerts

 

Limitation of aquatics and other activites as indicated by the threat of lightning, small-craft warnings, or high water

 

Written plans dealing with general health and safety concerns and specified measures to reduce or prevent accidents are kept on file in the camp and council offices. Topics to be addressed include:

 

Natural hazards specific to the site (floods, severe storms, earthquakes, fires, swift water, sinkholes, off-limit areas, wildlife)

 

Man-made hazards specific to the site (hazardous chemical spills, construction areas, highway crossings)

 

Safe operation of facilities and/or equipment

 

Environmental compliance: see M-18"(This message has been edited by bluegoose)

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FScouter is on the money! The G2SS has procedures for this.

 

Yah, useful stuff, like "don't use hair dryers, electric toothbrushes, or electric razors" "stay away from open doors and windows" and "stop tractor work."

 

I'm feelin' safer already.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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{{Yah, useful stuff, like "don't use hair dryers, electric toothbrushes, or electric razors" "stay away from open doors and windows" and "stop tractor work." }}

 

I guess that would mean the dining hall at our camp would not be a very safe place. Only screens in our doors and windows. And a lot of very tall oak trees around it to attract lightning.

 

Just tonight at my house there was 1 random stroke of lightning probably less than a mile away. The radar showed storms 20+ miles away.

Although we had cloudy skies at the time, I certainly was not expecting that one and only lightning bolt to come out of the sky. I heard no distant thunder. That bolt could have hit one of our Scouts who were involved in a service project this evening. If it had, I don't think anyone in their right mind would consider suing the Troop or council over it....although if they could find a lawyer who could make it sound as if the Scout was forced into the path of that bolt it might be worth a shot

 

 

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