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tnmule20

The liability of being a Boy Scout Leader

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I just read an article about a 16 year old Boy Scout losing his life due to dehydration on a hike in the Arizona desert.  https://www.foxnews.com/us/boy-scout-dies-arizona-desert

First, let me express my deepest condolences to his Family, Friends, and Troop.

I would like to hear the forum's opinions on the liability of being a Boy Scout leader.  Not just about this terrible tragedy but across the board.  There are so many different things happening within the BSA right now.  Personal responsibility and personal liability are always in the mix regardless of whether the BSA insurance covers you.

Just an open ended question that can go in many different directions.

Thank you for your responses.

 

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Sadly, your link takes me to a propaganda video that is anti-muslim.  You might want to use the link in the other thread that was started earlier today.

I am not a lawyer, but my assumption of liability would be limited unless the leader didn't something malicious.  There would be an expectation that the leader was trained to the best of their abilities.  This is why scouts should turn in the BSA activity release form prior to each campout and major activity.  We used them as part of the checkin process for the scouts.

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Posted (edited)

Liability for negligence is always a possibility ... even in the face of waivers.

Some scouters, because they work across multiple youth organizations and have seen so many ways things go bad with individuals consequently facing litigation, purchase personal liability insurance.

On a grander scale, we may be at a tipping point where certain capable Americans will hesitate to do good out of fear that they couldn't afford the risk of litigation.

Edited by qwazse

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Other than Scouts have done a good bit of sports coaching.  One of the parents was a lawyer, so I asked him what my liability was if a player got injured.  His umbrella response was that they (as parents) had to assume some risk as they allowed their child to play a sport.  Yes you could have an action against you, but it likely would not be a winnable one if you as the coach were doing normally accepted actions or it was the course of the game and no visible risks were present.  Drills, exercises, and other activities that would be associated with the sport and as the coach was taking reasonable care.  As others have noted, not being negligent.  Preface to that is normally acceptable of course.  

Scouts is similar, parents do have some assumption of risk.  They may not like that, but it is there.  Within the BSA medical form, that every participant should sign and their guardian should sign, there is this disclaimer:

I understand that participation in Scouting activities involves the risk of personal injury, including death, due to the physical, mental, and emotional challenges in the activities offered. Information about those activities may be obtained from the venue, activity coordinators, or your local council. I also understand that participation in these activities is entirely voluntary and requires participants to follow instructions and abide by all applicable rules and the standards of conduct.

Now, as with the sports example, are you taking reasonable care, are you or other leaders not being negligent, are you doing the things expected?  For example you are on a backpacking trek and as a side activity you lead them up a 40' free climb without proper gear.  That might be a challenge if someone gets hurt.

Exercise care, and most importantly...don't be stupid.

 

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Often, when people use the word liability, they're not really understanding the word itself.  Here's a definition from a law dictionary: Liabiity--The state of being bound or obliged in law or justice to do, pay, or make good something; legal responsibility.

This isn't a complete definition, but it's a good start. 

What I think you're asking about is risk.  What risk am I taking on by being a scout leader?  More specifically what financial risk am I taking on by being a scout leader?

The answer is actually probably not much, but it's worth walking through it.  Let's look at a hypothetical situation where a scout in your care gets hurt.  The main question that will arise is whether you were negligent, that is, did you exercise the same care that a reasonable and prudent person in the same circumstances would have done.  Let's be honest, we have all failed this test, but the vast majority of the time it doesn't matter because nothing bad happens as a result.

But let's say this time it did.  You're going to be sued, it's going to be astoundingly annoying and exasperating, and time consuming.  But the good news is that in the end it probably won't cost  you more than that because the BSA actually provides good insurance coverage protecting you against your own negligence.  I've never been able to get a definitive figure, but the coverage is in the millions and is going to cover almost anything you can think of, and it includes all the legal costs of defending you.  

As Qwasze mentioned, many volunteers carry their own insurance policy in addition to whatever BSA provides.  I do this in the form of a million dollar "umbrella" policy, the cost is relatively low and the peace of mind is high.

As with most things, driving a car poses a much greater financial risk than any scouting activity ever will.  

The worst thing that's going to happen to you if a kid gets hurt is that you're going to feel absolutely terrible that that scout got hurt.  Only you can decide if the joy of helping young people build good lives is worth the risk that one of them may be hurt or worse while in your care.

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Posted (edited)
14 hours ago, tnmule20 said:

I just read an article about a 16 year old Boy Scout losing his life due to dehydration on a hike in the Arizona desert.  https://www.foxnews.com/us/boy-scout-dies-arizona-desert

First, let me express my deepest condolences to his Family, Friends, and Troop.

I would like to hear the forum's opinions on the liability of being a Boy Scout leader.  Not just about this terrible tragedy but across the board.  There are so many different things happening within the BSA right now.  Personal responsibility and personal liability are always in the mix regardless of whether the BSA insurance covers you.

Just an open ended question that can go in many different directions.

Thank you for your responses.

 

These should be areas of focus for relatively new leaders (3 years or less experience):

1. Understand the BSA parameters. Constantly study the Guide to Safe Scouting, acquaint one's self  with the Troop Leader Guidebook.  Understanding what the is permissible or not is key.  There is no help for an adult leader that haplessly blunders into forbidden territory.

2.  Learn to use resources that measure conditions.  For example, many flat foots head out Grayson Highlands & Mt. Rogers VA in the Spring for backpacking not understanding the relationship between altitude (4500-5500') and weather vs 400'.  Many find themselves nearly freezing to death.  There are resources that can help figure things out, such as Wunderground which used to have historic data on private weather stations in some places that are relevant to hikers.  This may not be the case anymore, but the point being, be diligent.

Comprehending river flow data is another skill.  Use resources such as this https://waterdata.usgs.gov/mo/nwis/rt to stay on top of conditions leading up to a trip.  Have parameters (max safe flows for any given outing) in cfs flow established well ahead of the trip.

3.  Take the time to enroll in First Aid, and more importantly Wilderness First Aid.  Make sure the WFA class is legit.  Our local council just had a fella offer an 8 hour WFA.  Those who are in the know understand this is not legit. 

WFA can/should inform folks how to run a tight ship, such as release form/health form management.  Yes, I carry 4 pounds of health forms when backpacking.

There are a multitude of other online classes that are helpful provided BSA.  If your unit love rivers, take some ACA classes.

An umbrella insurance policy won't bring someone back from the dead, or out of a wheelchair due to spinal injury.  It is all about discipline, discipline, and discipline. 

Thus far in 6 years, our Troop has had more issues with adult crisis than issues with the youth.  Heart attacks, and diabetes related issues loom large on the adult side.  On the youth side, a youth experienced moderate secondary complications stemming from a tick bit, and one incident due to not using water purification equipment properly....GI issues.  My biggest fear is an adult leader dying of cardiac arrest in the woods.

Edited by Onslow

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On a related question, one of the things I hear about is where a case is dragged on through the courts, in the hopes that the other side will finally cave or reach settlement in order to stop the constant drain due to the costs of keeping the litigation alive. Is this a frequent thing for cases we might face in the BSA? 

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Treatises have been written about why litigation costs are high.  These days litigation costs are going to be high for everyone.  It is a truism that Defendants want to pay later and Plaintiffs want to get paid sooner.  To the extent that a prolonging litigation is going to benefit anyone it would be employed by someone defending against a lawsuit not by someone seeking to collect for negligence.

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Posted (edited)

 Case one:  When I coached my daughter's soccer team (4th 5th graders), we always had water available on the side lines.  I soon (after the second game!) realized the girls were NOT availing themselves of the water, even in the mandatory time outs our league required.  So I required:  Before the first and every other kick off,  EVERYONE sat down and drank one cup of water. Then I gave'm the coach's peptalk and technique talk.  Then they ran out and played.  I noticed an immediate increase in hustle and we even started winning a few. 

Case two:  At the NatJam in 2005,  it was hot and dry in A.P.Hill  . As Chaplains, we were supposed to be sensitive to Scout discomfort,  heat prostration being a very real possibility. I was doing duty in our Chaplain Desk Tent, with another Chaplain. Some Scouts came up and asked for some water, my partner chastised them for not carrying their own  canteen and was about to turn them away. I spoke up and said, yeah , but A Scout is Kind, come on in, and pointed to our orange Igloo water barrel. My partner looked askance at my interruption, but held his tongue.  We turned away no one else during our shift. 

Case three:  Way back when....  My Scout buddy and I took off from our troop campout to scale Maryland Heights above Harpers Ferry.  We came "prepared", I had my "standard issue" AL. BSA two quart canteen , my buddy Paul had a one quart, both started out full, and some snacks.   Our Troop leaders (Mssrs. Leaman and Atwell)  knew where we were going and we had a map. "be back in time for dinner clean up !"  It would be about 7 miles round trip as I recall (boy, could an unescorted  pair of Scouts do that today?  ). Our canteens were empty when we returned, I remember being very thirsty when we regained the camp.  

Case five:  Cub Scout Day Camp.   We actually had  a Cub REFUSE to drink water that was not FLAVORED or SWEET!   My CSDCDirector wife had to send for the Cub's parents to come and pick up their urchin after he refused to drink any ordinary water.   Coke?  Gator Aid?  Sprite? The parents said that was OKAY with them, but since the Camp would not provide the sugary drink, it was stipulated the Parent either had to be there with the Cub to provide same, or the Cub could not attend.  Guess which happened? 

Edited by SSScout

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I am often amazed at how oblivious scout leaders are to potential liability and risk, not just for safety but for membership and advancement issues as well. First, know the BSA guidelines and training for whatever you are doing with youth and follow them even if they seem like overkill. Second, be cautious, prudent, fair, and document. Third, make sure anyone else you are leading with is also following the first and second points. The best way to avoid liability and risk is to prevent problems by being knowledgeable and cautious. It can make you an unpopular Dudley Do Right. However, even if you have done nothing negligent and followed appropriate guidelines, everyone sues these days. Even if you don't wind up in court, you can be forced to spend hours navigating the legal process until things are dismissed or you are winnowed out. I speak from experience--not in scouts but something similar. 

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On 5/3/2019 at 10:14 PM, Jameson76 said:

Other than Scouts have done a good bit of sports coaching.  One of the parents was a lawyer, so I asked him what my liability was if a player got injured.  His umbrella response was that they (as parents) had to assume some risk as they allowed their child to play a sport.  Yes you could have an action against you, but it likely would not be a winnable one if you as the coach were doing normally accepted actions or it was the course of the game and no visible risks were present.  Drills, exercises, and other activities that would be associated with the sport and as the coach was taking reasonable care.  As others have noted, not being negligent.  Preface to that is normally acceptable of course.  

Scouts is similar, parents do have some assumption of risk.  They may not like that, but it is there.  Within the BSA medical form, that every participant should sign and their guardian should sign, there is this disclaimer:

I understand that participation in Scouting activities involves the risk of personal injury, including death, due to the physical, mental, and emotional challenges in the activities offered. Information about those activities may be obtained from the venue, activity coordinators, or your local council. I also understand that participation in these activities is entirely voluntary and requires participants to follow instructions and abide by all applicable rules and the standards of conduct.

Now, as with the sports example, are you taking reasonable care, are you or other leaders not being negligent, are you doing the things expected?  For example you are on a backpacking trek and as a side activity you lead them up a 40' free climb without proper gear.  That might be a challenge if someone gets hurt.

Exercise care, and most importantly...don't be stupid.

 

On 5/3/2019 at 10:14 PM, Jameson76 said:

 

Regardless of liability and fault, there is always risk of litigation,

a leader can spend years and thousands of dollars fighting litigation regardless of waivers

most lawyers will pursue the carriers and orgs with funds, not so much the individual him/herself,

 

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When my financial advisor found out I was a Scouter, he strongly suggested an Umbrella Liability Policy.  State Farm wrote one which I have bundled with all my other insurance.  Costs a coupla hundred bucks a year.  I don't trust the BSA or anyone else to cover my backside.

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16 hours ago, scoutldr said:

When my financial advisor found out I was a Scouter, he strongly suggested an Umbrella Liability Policy.  State Farm wrote one which I have bundled with all my other insurance.  Costs a coupla hundred bucks a year.  I don't trust the BSA or anyone else to cover my backside.

Yeah, I have one of those as well.  

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As a Scoutmaster and an attorney practicing commercial litigation, these are risks I have considered.  I too confirmed my umbrella liability covered the activity.  

In most negligence cases, the biggest issue is determining whether a defendant violated the standard of care (driving too fast for the conditions, running a soccer practice in dangerous weather conditions, maintaining property, etc.)  There can be a lot of gray area in defining the standard of care for those examples.  The standard of care is the care and attention a reasonable person would exercise under similar circumstances.  

Within the context of Scouting, however, I think a good case can be made the standard of care is far clearer:  the BSA rules and guidelines.  Ignorance, or disregard of those guidelines, whether it is YPT, ensuring trained leaders for specific trips (first aid, water-related activities) could be the basis for a negligence claim.    

I cannot say I give much thought to my potential liability while I am out on trips with our Troop.  My primary focus is on providing a safe scouting environment for our Troop, which is a byproduct of understanding the guidelines, having trained adult leaders who are similarly committed to understanding and abiding by those rules and making sure Scouts are at least cognizant of those risks in advance.  I feel an obligation to make sure that everyone on an outing, whether my son or those Scouts I am entrusted with on a trip, have the benefit of trained leaders who try to adhere to established policies and guidelines  Fortunately, the guidelines and training support both safe scouting and the satisfaction of the standard of care we owe to all scouts and leaders.  At the same time, we undertake activities that have risk, which cannot be completely eliminated.   

I find that strict adherence to the guidelines, even when it makes you a kill joy in the eyes of your troop, is a far preferable policy.  I took over a Troop that was rather lax in many respects, particularly as to the older Troop members.  Two weeks ago, I had to reason with an older Scout that his hammock, hung a good 6-8 feet off the ground, over a rather steep, rocky ravine, instead of the flat campsite available to him, might not be a good idea.  As a parent, I intuitively have concerns that is not a good idea, but being able to refer to the BSA rules on a take it or leave it basis (either: lower the hammock, sleep in a tent or arrange for a lift home) helped diffuse the issue.  

Several of the posts above referenced dehydration, and far lesser instances of it than the tragic death of a Scout on a hike.   Similar to posts above, this is a constant issue for our Troop, despite our warnings on every trip, and instructions to hydrate on breaks.  Many of them do not get that their water intake needs to vary with their activity levels, and that they might need more water when outside for 2 days than they drink on an ordinary day involving a school bus, a day in an air conditioned school, and then home to sit in front of a video game for several hours.   

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The three words no Scoutmaster wants to hear:   "HEY !  WATCH THIS ! ! " 

The three words we hope to hear:  " I'm a Scout." 

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