What you need to know about legal liability

Note: I am not a lawyer and I am not giving legal advise. If your troop does not have a lawyer as a resource please, please, please find someone who is local and willing to donate their services.

In Scouting, which is three-quarters outing, there is a lot of opportunity for people to become injured and for leaders to make errors in judgement. When mistakes happen that result in injury you, other leaders, the chartered organization, and the BSA can be sued. Civil suits are about money so the people doing the suing (typically parents and guardians) will go wherever the money is. Fortunately there are some simple ways to reduce the personal cost of such a situation by reducing legal liability.

The first thing to know is that the BSA will spend its time and treasure defending you as a leader if you were fully trained and you followed the training at the time of the incident. If you were not fully trained, you are on your own. If you did not follow the training you received, you are on your own. This is why the BSA spends so much time promoting and requiring training. Further, the BSA training programs are adjusted and improved each year based on the court cases brought against the organization and its leaders. The best way to limit your liability as a leader in Scouting is to get trained and to follow that training.

The second thing to know is that we are a contract-heavy society and it is straightforward to require parents and guardians to sign an activity consent form for every activity a Scout participates in. This contract can and should include a waiver of liability for the leaders and chartered organization. These documents will hold up in court so long as they were complete in describing the various aspects of the outing. For example, if the troop decides to go swimming during a bike-ride and a scout drowns, the activity consent form is useless if it does not include swimming as part of the activity.

In creating or improving the activity consent form for your troop you can search for what other units use and start there. I strongly recommend you have the document reviewed by a lawyer on a periodic basis and implement any recommendations. Even if the unit must pay for this service, it is money extremely well spent if there is ever a need for the document in court.

YIS, Jeff

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