Good morning, Worm your honor.
The crown will plainly show
The prisoner who now stands before you
Was caught red-handed showing feelings
Showing feelings of an almost human nature;
This will not do.
In paddling, “Liability” is always a good discussion. There are steps we can take to lessen the risk but unless we’re ready to chuck it all in we may as well learn to live with it. But as paddlers we are already familiar with “Risk Management”. . . right?
It shouldn’t have to be said but first and foremost, “Do the right thing.” If you just be good, thoughtful and prudent you’ve lain down a good defense and should sleep well. However, we all know the act of breathing these days opens you up to litigation. That’s life.
In sea kayaking we talk about liability all the time, although I can’t say I’ve ever seen any numbers that suggest the risk of lawsuits is all that high. Still it’s good to be prudent. So we train, we double check the information we have, we get insurance, join organizations, or work at shops that provide it. We fill out forms about forms and sign that our signatures are our signatures. The first thing we do in a paddling class is teach our students where to sign the waivers. Still, waivers are like making condoms out of cellophane. It only takes one prick to make them worthless. (sorry it was just there)
Liability is a risk we can’t really avoid. It can’t be signed off, not really. Did you ever wonder why lawyers in the community are not lining up to give us definitive answers!? It’s easy to understand why they won’t hop willingly into that writhing snake pit. Simply, there are no definitive answers. Just press your local ACA IT about their liability forms. Ask them if they will actually, really, truly, always protect you. The honest answer is of course, “No.” Will the your umbrella organization take up your defense in all cases? Go ahead and ask, it will make for even more convoluted discussions.
Sadly there are no black and white answers for the guys in the white hats. I mean if you are a total prat you can get sued and held liable for your stupidity, most of won’t have a problem with that. Our fear is that those of us who cross our T’s and dot our I’s can get sued. That’s the thing a lawsuit does not require that the person sued did anything wrong. It’s akin to a Salem Witch-hunt in that anyone can be accused, and the accusation is in of itself a punishment. Anyone with the budget or will can sue you. Most of us would be destitute mounting a defense before we ever actually got our day in court.
That’s where the stark truth of liability is in my opinion. First you face the fact that when you breath near another human you face liability. Your real choice is simply do you keep on keeping on or do you become a recluse. I’ve been party to so many soul searches about this issue over the years I’ve become quite jaded. There are great coaches that won’t teach. There are certified coaches who won’t paddle with non-certified paddlers. What’s more there are those who say just the act of paddling is irresponsible. People can get their stomachs all tied up in knots over fears of a lawsuit or fears in general. The unknown is scary. Losing it all is scary. Yes it is. Still, fear as paddlers know is a respected yet paranoid friend that must be taken seriously but can’t be allowed to take over.
So let me tell you a story. Throughout my life I’ve dealt with fear and anxiety issues. Real ones. You know, the “see the doctor and take some pills” sort of fear and anxiety. It was much worse when I was younger. I could lie in bed and hear my heart beat. I’d hyper focus on it to the point where I’d hyperventilate and start shaking. Soon enough I’d be in the middle of an anxiety attack. Even now issues of life, relationships, finances and such can at times push a button and I’ll have to fight to maintain focus or control of those inner terrors. Luckily these days the results of losing the battle are just the loss of sleep. All in all it got much better. The first thing that helped me was, as foolish as it sounds, a quote from Dale Carnegie’s famous book “How to Stop Worrying and Start Living”. I didn’t have to read the whole book. (I did though) One thought was an epiphany. He said, “Imagine the worst thing that can happen, accept it as real and deal with it.” or something to that effect. Then he said, almost nothing that ever happens is nearly as bad as we can imagine it to be. I think there is truth in that. Accepting that meant I could as the book says, “Start Living.”
We could get sued for anything, by anybody. Yes. What’s the worst thing you will deal with? Loss of your job? Loss of your nest egg? Bankruptcy? Loss of reputation in certain circles? It’s possible. If it’s your fault you have to take it and live with it. If you did nothing wrong you have to take strength in knowing that and assume those people really close to you will know better as well. They won’t blame you or ostracize you, they’ll just think you really got screwed. You won’t lose your family or your real friends, you’ll lose your material wealth. Hard times, for sure. Yet in order to avoid that “worst possible outcome” what do you give up? Is it worth it? Would’nt it be your luck that you stop teaching but then you get into a car accident and sued for that instead? Oops! Should doctors stop being doctors? Should we stop driving? Do coaches stop coaching? Does Marilyn Manson stop making cds? Do EMT’s cover their eyes when they see an accident and drive on? Where does it end? Fear of liability can grab us by the ____ and create a whole new set of problems. Risk as any paddler knows can be managed, but never eliminated.
In some ways it seems to me the discussion of liability is like a dog chasing its tail. It’s an endless loop, simply because there are not absolutes. In the end you have a choice, do what you love or quit. But don’t kid yourself that just because you quit paddling, teaching, or writing, or publishing, or building boats, or selling gear or whatever you are avoiding liability. . . Now the risk just comes at you from another direction.
Oh by the way, did you remember to shovel your sidewalk this morning? Just asking. . .
*Please note that this article is purely the speculation of a raving lunatic with no legal or social background. It’s all bullocks anything you take away from it you do at your own peril.