Liability on a river trip - Mountain Buzz

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Old 03-15-2019   #1
Join Date: Jun 2018
Posts: 18
Liability on a river trip

Hello Buzzards,

Question: Do you worry about liability when you are the TL on a river trip? Or even just the boat captain and other people are on your boat (oar or paddle)?

I have started thinking about this more lately. I’m middle aged, And I’ve actually accumulated a few assets, and don’t want to lose them. I have kids and their friends might go with us in the future.

This was discussed 8 years ago here.

The consensus on that thread seemed to be: Give everyone a stern safety talk and hope for the best.

I can be stern. But my “hope for the best” runs low when I see and hear of law suits and insurance companies pursuing people, etc.

So, thoughts? Experience? I bet many of us have this issue with ATV’s or horses or ski boats as well.

Thanks in advance!

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Old 03-15-2019   #2
MT4Runner's Avatar
Kalispell, Montana
Paddling Since: 1997
Join Date: Apr 2012
Posts: 2,636
The circle of people I actually trust grows smaller with the passing years.

1. Talk with your insurance agent and confirm your personal liability limits (and then don't let anyone know you have liability insurance). It won't keep you from getting sued, but should protect you for court costs--and judgements should you be held liable.

2. Don't do anything dumb. Sure, you might get sued, but if you don't do anything dumb, your attorney (that your insurance co is paying for) should be able to keep a judgement from being found against you.
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Old 03-15-2019   #3
Englewood, Colorado
Join Date: Jul 2018
Posts: 41
I'm a recovering lawyer (ha, ha...) and I have on very rare occasions when I'm going out with a group which includes a few strangers sent out quasi-waivers. I could certainly do a full blown signed waiver, but that's pretty compulsive and probably not the tone you want to set (not to mention it creates the impression that you're a leader/guide). What I'm calling a quasi-waiver (my term, it's not a term of art...) is a simple e-mail to the effect of "Hey guys, just so we're all on the same page, I want to be clear that I'm not acting as any sort of guide or leader. We should all help each other out if reasonably possible, but we should also all understand that we're assuming the risks of the trip and will be responsible for our own safety & the safety of our respective families. Let me know if you agree/are cool with that." This isn't nearly as effective as a full waiver, which generally can't protect you from gross negligence anyway, but it's something upon which to hang the legal hat and I see no down side. You're just proactively creating helpful evidence in the event of litigation. Obviously if someone balks at agreeing, heads up.

And hey guys, just so we're all on the same page, I want to be clear I'm not offering legal advice, just letting you know what I've done in rare circumstances. If you want "real" legal advice, of course you should hire a lawyer. Don't rely on some psycho on the internet...

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Old 03-15-2019   #4
Never enough free time
Red Lodge, Montana
Paddling Since: 1998
Join Date: Feb 2018
Posts: 299
If someone wants to sue you, you lose even if you win.

I was involved with risk management at a couple of ski areas before my current job and the takeaway from that is that waivers don't really even protect you from a lawsuit, especially if it is a parent signing a waiver for a kid.

I spend a lot of time on business contracts (I'm not a lawyer) and the key terms for me are willful misconduct and gross negligence. Basically: Did you do it on purpose or are you a total nincompoop?

Take this as a hypothetical: You pin or flip your boat and a passenger gets seriously injured or even dies.

If you are a competent boater with skills generally recognized as adequate for the situation, told your passengers the risks and gave them an opportunity to opt out, gave them a thorough safety and rescue orientation, and generally acted in good faith, including not being intoxicated or otherwise impaired, then you are probably OK.

Now take the same situation but you were in over your head, drunk, and your passengers didn't know what was to be expected, you might be in serious jeopardy.

At the end of the day it is going to come down to the facts and you can only hope that they are on your side.
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Old 03-16-2019   #5
k2andcannoli's Avatar
Denver, Colorado
Paddling Since: 2002
Join Date: Feb 2012
Posts: 886
I Drink when I such I won't allow anyone to ride with me except my wife. I worked for a company on the Cheat in WV, we lost two custies in two weeks one year. I saw how that affected my boss and his livelihood. Luckly he came out unscathed and still in business. One underwater pin drowning and one heart attack.
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Old 03-16-2019   #6
Eagle, Colorado
Paddling Since: 2000
Join Date: May 2007
Posts: 89

Not sure how liable you would be as a TL for people that are guiding there own boats. I guess the argument would be that without your permit they could not run the river and could not have encountered the danager and therefore would not have been harmed...I'd say that would be a tough one to handle and hard to prove that that was the main factor rather than their boating skills. The whole >50% at fault theory. As far as pasengers on your boat, yeah, that is a different story and yes probably goes back to the negligence factor.

Either way, at the very least, get an umbrella policy that covers you from personal liability. Really, it is a god idea to have one regardless of the situtation. Most Auto policies do not have nearly enough liability coverage by can do a lot of damage with a car. Standard Umbrella's have 1,000,000 in coverage and cost about 200/year. I also have a watercraft policy that costs about 100/year and has an extra 500,000 liability. I didn't get it for the liability, I got it because I leave my boat fully rigged on a trailer in my driveway....basically 10K that can be stolen. Covers the boat and trailer and attached gear. The liability is just a bonus.

And yes, if someone does decide to sue you, then at least the insurance companies lawyers can decide to get involved if they don't want to pay out the money.
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Old 03-16-2019   #7
Join Date: Jun 2018
Posts: 18
Thanks for the replies. I’ve considered the umbrella policy. I think it’s definitely time to pull the trigger on that.

Insurances make a lot of sense to me. Mainly because I can control that, and therefore I feel a little more comfortable.

This is getting a little further away from the original post, but I’ve considered doing the multiple different trusts to protect assets. Maybe I’m not worth enough $$ for that to make sense either (let me answer that, I’m definitely not worth enough $$ &#x1f604. But when I see what I have (a family, a house , a good job, a 401k, a few other investments, and a couple of really crappy cars etc) and I think of how much work it was to get each one of those items, and then I think how quickly it could be taken away. Well, it makes me stop and think.

Please keep the suggestions and thoughts coming. I imagine many people do very little outside of a safety talk on the river and regular insurances at home (car,home owners,etc). I doubt they think of themselves as having a “devil may care” attitude. Others have probably done everything I’ve listed above and more. I appreciate being able to learn from your experience and perspectives.
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Old 03-17-2019   #8
Apache Junction, Arizona
Paddling Since: 2008
Join Date: Dec 2015
Posts: 224
401ks are very protected in the case of lawsuits. IRAs are some but not as much. Brokerage with checking and savings not at all. Moving into trusts probably is not going to protect you. Different states are different but the majority of the time you need to make the trusts irrevocable and give up control to another party. Trusts are generally for estate planning. You could do a family limited partnership but again probably an overkill for this situation.
Umbrella policy is your best bet at a reasonable price with minimal headaches..
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Old 03-17-2019   #9
St. George, Utah
Paddling Since: 1974
Join Date: May 2011
Posts: 205
You sign a liability waiver on any trip you do with a commercial outfitter or tour company. Why shouldn't a trip leader want to have trip participants do the same thing?

I have been on two Grand Canyon trips where the PH required participants to sign a waiver and I had no problem with it. One Ph was a lawyer and the other was a person with a lot of assets.

As the layer who requested the waiver said. It is not so much the individual who might sue but the estate of someone who died or was injured on the trip. You will still have to defend yourself from a lawsuit.

All the legal stuff aside boat insurance is what I have and feel it is a good investment for peace of mind.

Do I require a waiver from my friends when boating, no. Would I want one when putting a trip together with strangers and providing gear and advise, maybe. If I worried about someone getting their nose bend over it maybe I would think about not inviting that person.
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Old 03-17-2019   #10
Edwards, Colorado
Paddling Since: 1995
Join Date: Jun 2016
Posts: 10
Thanks pen posting this thread. I've considered the financial implications related to accidents, etc w.r.t. owning our rig as well as skiing, biking, etc. Appreciate the insights!
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