By David Peterson, Ozark Society President

At the summer meeting, the Ozark Society Board of Directors passed a recommendation that the Ozark Society and its chapters implement the signing of liability waivers at all hiking and paddling events. These risk and liability waivers generally have three parts:

  1. The participant attests that they are in good physical health and capable of participating in the hiking or paddling event, and that they understand that they may be exposed to a variety of hazards and risks, foreseen or not foreseen, that are inherent to the event, and that they have read and understood information made available by the organizers.
  2. They acknowledge that the event is at the discretion of the event organizer who can exclude those deemed unable to properly participate, set age limits, deny pets, and determine group size. Participants assume personal responsibility for all risks associated with travel to and from an event. A participant who leaves early during an event or continues after the conclusion assumes all risks in the decision with no liability against the Ozark Society.
  3. And finally they agree to waive, discharge claims, and release from liability the Ozark Society, its agents, assistants and other leaders from any and all liability on account of, or in any way resulting from, injuries and damages.

Citizens do not actually lose their right to access the legal system when they sign waivers of this sort, so what is the purpose? The signing and review of waivers before an event is useful “due diligence” for a well-informed hike or paddle, and a concept that can shield boards and workers of non-profits in court, at least in Arkansas. But this spring during a large, non-OS, group-hiking adventure in a steep watershed, two hikers decided to return to the trail head alone. One slipped and fell, eventually drowning. The media was immediately swept with accusations of improper leadership. So, is there insurance to protect our leaders if we should find ourselves in such a case?

There is “directors & officers” general liability insurance, mostly covering employee relations, financial mismanagement and social misadventures with a maximum coverage of $1,000,000 for about $600 or so. How about injuries and damages during active events? Typically these cost about $5-10 per person/per event. They tend to be a bookkeeping irritant, with only liability coverage, not actual reimbursement for injury by participants. The OS has used liability insurance offered by the American Canoe Association in the past, but didn’t find the costs and ACA membership requirement justified. We have no insurance at this time.