Boy Scouts of America Sued for Not Being Trustworthy

Given that I am a Personal Injury Attorney, Scoutmaster of a Boy Scout Troop, the member of the Nassau County's Boy Scout Risk Management Committee, and the father of two Boy Scouts, it is no surprise that when someone sues the Boy Scouts of America for negligence, it is of interest to me. This particular lawsuit arises out of a 20 mile Troop hike through Big Cypress National Park in the Everglades. It was brought to my attention by one of my Assistant Scoutmasters who sent me an e-mail titled "Figured you would be interested". I was. My first thought was, would this lawsuit be successful in New York? Of course we do not know all the facts, and a slight change in the facts could change the answer, but lets take a stab anyway. The facts as we know them are these: The scout was 17 years old, and according to his parents, physically fit and close to becoming an Eagle Scout. He had been in the scouting program since Cub Scouts. The Scoutmaster had been in place for a number of years. The hikers included two adults, including the Scoutmaster, and three scouts. The temperature was predicted to reach a high of above 90 degrees. By 1 pm the boys had reached the 15 mile point and were showing signs of fatigue. The scout, Mike, began to seem dizzy, and the leaders had him sit down and drink water. After about 20 minutes he seemed to get worse, started choking, then vomited, and stopped breathing. CPR was administered, and 911 called resulting in a helicopter arriving 45 minutes later. The scout was pronounced dead soon thereafter. The parents sued the Scout leaders, sponsoring organization, and the Boy Scouts of America. The attorney for the family of the deceased scout alleged a violation of one of the virtues of the scout law: Trustworthiness. Of course the courts do not use the standard of, Trustworthy, but rather Negligence. Thus the key questions are : 1) Did the Scout Leaders and BSA owe a duty to the scout? If so; 2) Did they breach that duty by acting negligently, i.e. by failing to act as the reasonable person would in such a circumstances. And; 3) Even if there was negligence, were they relieved of any duty by the scouts' own actions and responsibilities? First, in my opinion the Scout leaders did owe a duty to the scout. The duty was to provide a reasonably safe program, without any hidden risks, or increased dangers on their part. Here the Scout leaders would have fulfilled the requirements by taking the required training courses, informed the scouts of the length of the hike, the temperature conditions, and making sure they had enough water when starting out. Did the leaders breach their duty? That is impossible for us to say without knowing more. If the leaders followed BSA requirements and recommendations as set forth in the Guide to Safe Scouting and other locations, took the requisite training courses such as Hazardous Weather Training, filed a tour permit, and gotten written permission from the parents for the scout to attend the trip, then most likely they did not act negligently. However, if they denied the scout water, pushed him to keep hiking when he was showing signs of distress, or otherwise put the scout in a more dangerous situation, liability could exist. Did the scout have any duties? Absolutely. The hike was voluntary, and the scout had been in scouting for several years. He assumed the risks of going on a hike, which he should have been aware of. In New York one assumes the normal risks associated with athletic activities. If the hike is considered an athletic activity by the court, the case would probably be dismissed by a New York State Court on the grounds that the scout assumed the risks of the activity. Keep in mind that if the scout was 11 years old, instead of 17, or had mental or physical disabilities, the analysis would likely be different, resulting in a greater duty for the leaders, and a lesser duty for the scout. Obviously, there are risks to anything we do, and it is more risky (at least in the short term) to go on a 20 mile hike then to stay home and play video games. The theory behind scouting is that the rewards of going on outings outweigh the risks. Of course the risks must be evaluated in each case and taken into account when deciding if a particular outing is appropriate and worth the risks. Even if the leaders are not negligent as a matter of law, all scout leaders should use this unfortunate event as a learning tool, and as a cautionary tale. Leaders must be properly trained, relay the information learned in training to the rest of the troop , be cognizant as to how each member of the outing is holding up, and always keep in mind the importance of the whether conditions and keeping hydrated. And of course, always "Be Prepared". You can learn more about the case and the response from the Boy Scouts of America here:

http://abcnews.go.com/US/boy-scout-death-20-mile-hike-heat/story?id=11861418
If you have any questions or comments, please contact us. If you have a ideas for future blog posts let me know. – Marc Miner, Esq. Zalman & Schnurman is a New York law firm that concentrates in personal injury actions such as construction accidents, motor vehicle accidents, bicycle accidents, premises liability, trip and falls, slip and falls, snow and ice cases, medical malpractice, traumatic brain injuries, etc. Learn more at www.1800Lawline.com, or contact us at 1-800-LAWLINE, or 1-800-529-5463 New York City, Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan, Queens, Staten Island, Nassau County, Suffolk County, Westchester County, Rockland County. The information provided here is for informational purposes only and is not meant as legal advice or to cover all possible facts or factors. An attorney should be consulted to discuss specific facts and laws. This post was not authorized by the Boy Scouts of America and represents only the opinion of the author.

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