Volunteer search groups sued

In the Spring of 2009 Golden and District Search and Rescue in B.C. was named in a lawsuit by a skier.

The plaintiff is Gilles Blackburn, who states that the authorities, the resort and the volunteer search and rescue team, did not do an effective job in attempting to save him and his wife. His wife did not survive the ordeal. Blackburn stamped SOS signals into the snow that were observed by all three organizations. This should have caused a response but did not. His wife died of exposure. This is the basis for his suit.

Volunteer organizations can carry insurance to help defend them in lawsuits and ultimately pay claims, when necessary. Some protection can be found under the provincial or territorial government for the individual volunteers. Some personal property policies also have liability extensions for volunteer work.

If you are involved in a volunteer organization, you should check to see what coverage is there for you as a volunteer, or as a director or officer of the organization. Also confirm if your home insurance policy has an extension of coverage.

In Alberta the search and rescue groups have been the recipients of the passing of Bill 6. Bill 6 is a provincial government fund liability insurance for volunteer search organizations acting in good faith.

These groups have costs that are outside the training grant provided by the Alberta management Agency. Fundraising helps to cover some of the ongoing operational costs and capital expenditures. The cost of insurance has strained the budgets with estimated costs between $75,000 to $80,000 a year. Hopefully there will be some accident coverage and disability insurance included in the package when it is finalized.