Negligence, duty to act, breach of duty, harm, standard of care, abandonment

These days, many persons are quite worried about getting sued. The news media (and some special interest groups) love to hype rare cases with high damage awards. Good Samaritan Laws often provide a great deal of protection to rescuers and for good reason. In general, good risk management will protect you against negligence and leads to safe trips. Here is a list of legal terms you should be familiar with:

  • Negligence - The failure to use reasonable care. This class teaches you the latest in rescue practices and how to ensure safety.
  • Duty to Act - If you are not leading a paid trip, you are not required to perform a rescue. It is up to you. Furthermore, you are NEVER required to risk your life in effecting a rescue. The following article from an EMT provides a more detailed explanation: Duty to Act.
  • Breach of Duty - Failure to satisfy ethical, legal, or moral obligations, specially where someone has a corresponding right to demand the satisfaction. Most of us are not paid for our services and are not under contractual obligation to provide a service (or rescue).
  • Harm - Harm is physical or mental damage, an act or instance of injury, or a material and tangible detriment or loss to a person. Whitewater boating is a sport that involves risk. Most clubs require signed waivers to become a member. This class also requires a signed waiver to participate. It is very important to follow good risk management to avoid accidental injuries. This class also teaches ways to avoid additional harm to the victim and others involved in rescues.
  • Standard of Care - The watchfulness, attention, caution and prudence that a reasonable person in the circumstances would exercise. This class teaches rescue practices that meet this standard.
  • Abandonment - The giving up of a thing absolutely, without reference to any particular person or purpose. This term is very confusing so an example will provide a better explanation. When performing CPR, you are not allowed to stop until relieved by a professional, exhaustion, or risk of injury to yourself.

Moral vs. legal obligation to act

Many confuse moral and legal obligations to act (perform a rescue). It may seem very cold indeed not to rescue someone in trouble but it is perfectly legal in most cases: Good Samaritan Laws By State. The decision to rescue is yours and the decision to act needs to be weighed against potential harm to oneself, your group, and bystanders. The goal of SWR training is to enable you to make an informed decision and greatly increase your chances of success (everyone returns unharmed).

Trip leader vs. common adventurer

In most cases, unpaid trip leaders have no more liability than common adventurers. On the other hand if you are a paid professional like a raft guide, you do have a contractual obligation to perform a service to your customers and that often includes rescue if that becomes necessary. All adventure companies require signed waivers and most also carry business liability insurance for added protection. Training is essential for paid professionals in this sport.