Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Outdoor school under fire

Who assumes the risk when you join a guided trip into the wild and things go wrong?

We mentioned earlier that a client on a hike in Utah with the Boulder Outdoor Survival School died after a 10-hour hike in the heat. The Salt Lake Tribune reported that Dave Bushow of River Vale, N.J., repeatedly told instructors he was thirsty, but he wasn't given any water.

The school has also been named in a lawsuit by a client who says she was injured during one of the school's courses. Lisa Tabb of New Orleans says she broke her hip, leg and ribs and dislocated her shoulder in a fall during a BOSS course in Utah in May 2005.

In an AP story, Josh Bernstein, president and chief executive officer of the school, defended his company’s safety record and said the school makes clear to participants that its courses involve risk. “We don’t guarantee safety,” he said. "There are inherent risks in the wilderness that are beyond our ability to control."

What do you think? Who takes the responsibility in an outdoor survival school course? Who determines the amount of risk? Who assumes the risk if you're on a guided raft trip or horseback ride?


Erica said...

This is tricky territory, of course. I have no legal expertise here, my opinions are those of a layperson only. But it seems to me that anybody engaging in such activities ought to be intelligent enough to assume that there is some risk. I'm sure such schools/guides/etc. have liability waivers that every participant has to sign. And I imagine most of them have at least a rudimentary "what to do and not to do" session beforehand.
It's important that the staff overseeing those activities are trained to recognize and heed those 'red flag' symptoms of serious trouble.
If all those pieces are taken care of, I think it's a case of caveat emptor.

Zen said...

People are willing to assume the RISK of injury or death, but they are not willing to accept injury or death itself. As the old saying goes "its always easier said than done".

UltraRob said...

One of the things that gets me really upset is how Americans won't accept responsibility for their actions. I do lots of dangerous things but I think my skill will keep me from getting injured most of the time. Generally when I get injured is when I'm just messing around but in any case, I accept that if I get hurt it's my responsibility.

In the case of the guy asking for water and not being given it, I don't know all the details but that seems like a bad thing on the part of the instructor. I can see limiting food but water isn't something you can survive long without. I could be convinced that in this case the instructor and the school are at fault.

Anonymous said...

The police report is public record. Read it. Dave was stripped of all water during this phase of the hike. He carried a water bottle but was not allowed to fill it. He was hiked for more than 10 hours in 105 degree heat.

On many occasions, he told the instructors that he needed water. He was collapsing after a few steps, but the instructors kept pushing him. In the end, he collapsed onto his stomach and told the instructor that he could not move. He again asked the instructor for water and was told that he could make it to the water source 100 yards away. He died on the spot.

The instructors carry emergency water, but did not give any to Dave. Dave did not know they carry water as he would have demanded it as he knew he was in duress. He was clearly exhibiting signs of extreme dehydration. Dave was a military trained survivalist and outdoorsman. If he was responsible for his own self, he would not have died. When the instructors removed his ability to carry water, he then became their responsibility. At that point, they are responsible for maintaining your life.

The instructors killed Dave due to their negligence. A criminal investigation is underway.

Anonymous said...

I completed the same BOSS course that is referenced here about 2 weeks before these incidents. I can say that the courses re not for the timid or those looking for a "vacation". All the students sign pretty thorough waivers that acknowledge that the student is entering the wilderness and assuming a level of risk. One of the reasons students sign up for the BOSS courses is for the adventure / risk taking aspect of it. My class had a guy that fell down the side of a cliff and hurt himself as well (not as severely as the injured lady), and he limped the rest of the course, but never complained that the course was at fault. In my opinion, people sign up for these courses assuming a level of risk that is not there in your normal vacation and the school should not be held responsible if they were not negligent.

In reference to the comments about the student that died: during the first phase of the course (the impact phase) you are allowed to carry very little gear. You are allowed to carry a cup to gather and drink water, but can only fill it when you find a water source. I wasn't on that course so I cannot reference what action was taken or was not taken by the instructors.

Anonymous said...

I've participated in several BOSS courses over the past 4 years, and I can tell you from those experiences that the BOSS staff is well trained and very knowledgeable in Wilderness safety.

They are certified Wilderness First Responders are very experienced in the signs and symptoms of dehydration and the treatment.

The impact phase of a BOSS field course is very tough. They are very, very clear on this. A physical with a stress test is required to be performed before you arrive. You are required to complete a running test once you get there. They have recommended amounts of training and levels that you should be at before attempting a course, and it's made very clear that this is not your typical vacation.

In my opinion, BOSS has put in place all the steps and information that they can to try to ensure that students that attend are ready and healthy.

This sad tragedy seems to be an anomaly -- Most of the articles fail to report that this is the first death during a trek at a BOSS course and first BOSS course related death in 18-years.

I think that demonstrates their dedication to making a Survival Course situation as safe as you can make a Survival Course. It is what it is, a Survival Course, and risks are involved that are pointed out clearly before and after you get there.

Also, missed in most of the reports is the that the 10-hour hike coverd a distance of only 4-miles! I'm sure that many breaks were taken to sit in any shade found.

I can't help but think there must have been another underlying health problem.

Anonymous said...

The autopsy report has been completed. Dave's death was ruled as severe electrolyte imbalance brought upon by extreme dehydration.

Most medical experts agree that heat exhaustion and heat stroke are one in the same. The jump into heat stroke is sudden and can not be reliably detected. BOSS routinely places it's students into heat exhaustion during the Field Course.

If you have taken a BOSS course and exhibited signs like: cramping, vomiting, light-headed, delerium then you were exhibiting signs of heat exhaustion and hyponatremia.

Dave's death was not an anomoly. BOSS has simply been lucky all these years when they rolled the dice with students lives. The philosophy of "we've been doing it this way all of these years without a problem" is the same used in the airline industry. Almost every airline disaster could have been prevented had the proper policies been in place to begin with.

Dave did not trip and fall off a cliff. He did not get bitten by some poisoness snake. He died of dehydration, period. The police report (which contains only the instructors statements) details EVERY CLASSIC sign of extreme heat exhaustion and hyponatremia. It also details how the instructors recognized the problems Dave was having, yet chose to ignore them because this is the way they had been doing it all these years.

WFR training is a small part (very small) of what an instructor needs for wilderness safety. The bottom line is that there is no amount of training that can help you prevent heat stroke when you are artificially pushing someone into it. Rest means nothing without fluids and salt.

The instructors may be trained in recognizing signs of dehydration, but recognizing and treating are two different things.

As a WEMT, I was asked by a friend to review the police report. Reading it was disturbing. Realizing that Dave's death was 100% preventable was sickening.

Anonymous said...

I agree with what zen stated earlier, its unfortunate how people are ignorant in thinking that after signing all these waivers that there is no chance of something like this to occur. Thats why your signing them. Its terrible that he did die, and I don't have all the history of the situation. But people do have to take responsibility for their own actions and not put the blame on others(if that is the case). As an avid backpacker/kayaker I keep myself well aware of significant risks,something people don't want to think about. I don't mean to sound angry, and my prayers to go out to the family. Maybe the school should really express the inherent dangers differently.