A teen was charged $25K for a rescue he did not need. Here's the story: A 17 year old Eagle Scout went hiking in the White Mountains of New Hampshire last April. He sprained an ankle, tried a different route out, it failed and he spent 3 days backtracking. In the mean time a Search and Rescue was called. He was found, hiking, OK and not needing a rescue.
Three months later the state of New Hampshire sent him a bill for his non-rescue for $25,000. They are saying that he was negligent. Fish and Game Maj. Tim Acerno said the decision to fine Mason came from what was deemed as the teen's negligence for continuing a hike with an injury -- a sprained ankle -- and veering off a trial to what Mason recalled was a shortcut. Only the shortcut was cut short by a stream swollen from melting snow and snow still on the ground in April.
Another article quotes the state as saying: Scott Mason had been praised for utilizing his Eagle Scout skills — sleeping in the crevice of a boulder and jump-starting fires with hand sanitizer gel. But he wasn't prepared for the conditions he encountered and shouldn't have set out on such an ambitious hike."Yes, he'd been out there in July when you could step across the brooks. And people have been out there in winter in hard-packed snow. But with these spring conditions, it was soft snow, it was deep snow," said Fish and Game Maj. Tim Acerno. Mason was negligent in continuing up the mountain with an injury and veering off the marked path. Negligence, he said, is based on judging what a reasonable person would do in the same situation.
So . . . . In New Hampshire it's negligent to hike with a sprained ankle! Or is it negligent to try and take a shortcut when you sprain an ankle? So now hiking is OK now, but only in the summertime? A "reasonable" person would have laid down and died, or spent hours watching his cell phone battery die. This kid has guts; he got himself out of the jam and was walking home! A well trained individual got in trouble and got himself out of trouble. Now the state wants money from him?
Are you mad yet? Here is the actual Hew Hampshire statute:
206:26-bb Search and Rescue Response Expenses; Recovery.
I. Notwithstanding RSA 153-A:24, any person determined by the department to have acted negligently in requiring a search and rescue response by the department shall be liable to the department for the reasonable cost of the department's expenses for such search and rescue response. The executive director shall bill the responsible person for such costs. Payment shall be made to the department within 30 days after the receipt of the bill, or by some other date determined by the executive director. If any person shall fail or refuse to pay the costs by the required date, the department may pursue payment by legal action, or by settlement or compromise, and the responsible person shall be liable for interest from the date that the bill is due and for legal fees and costs incurred by the department in obtaining and enforcing judgment under this paragraph. All amounts recovered, less the costs of collection and any percentage due pursuant to RSA 7:15-a, IV(b), shall be paid into the fish and game search and rescue fund established in RSA 206:42.
II. f any person fails to make payment under paragraph I, the executive director of the fish and game department may:
(a) Order any license, permit, or tag issued by the fish and game department to be suspended or revoked, after due hearing.
(b) Notify the commissioner of the department of health and human services of such nonpayment. The nonpayment shall constitute cause for revocation of any license or certification issued by the commissioner pursuant to RSA 126-A:20 and RSA 151:7.
(c) Notify the director of motor vehicles of such nonpayment and request suspension of the person's driver's license pursuant to RSA 263:56.
Note that no jury, no court, no judicial authority makes the determination as to whether or not there was real negligence. Under most state laws, no "department" can determine if someone is negligent. That is left solely within the power of the courts.
The young man has until August 9th to pay the bill or to go to supposedly court to contest the fine. I don't see anywhere in the statute where he has an option of going to court. But he should and we should help. For more information on helping Scott Mason please read to the end.
Its not clear how the state can create a law about negligent hiking. In 25 years practicing law, 20 years specializing in outdoor recreation and I've never heard of or even thought of the idea of negligent hiking or negligent self rescue. What constitutes negligence when going for a hike? Negligence is composed of four steps all of which must be met. There must be a:
a breach of that duty,
an injury, and
damages proximately caused by the breach of the duty.
What is the basic duty that was breached? Does a hiker owe the state a duty not to get hurt or lost? (Or does the state owe the hiker a risk free trail and signs so the hiker does not get hurt or lost like in any downtown city in the US?). Where is the duty owed and to whom? Citizens only owe the state a duty if the state by law has said there is a duty. The best example is to pay taxes. Not to walk the way the state wants you to walk in the woods.
If we don't get involved to fight this law several major things are going to happen.
SAR is going to get messier. A fine is not going to stop people from going hiking or doing stupid things.Instead of calling when things are bad people who fear a $25K or higher bill will wait till it is too late.
The capstone for this is the family of the rescued young man sent $1000.00 to the search and rescue group for helping to find Scott BEFORE they heard from the state.
If you would like to contribute to the Rescue Scott Mason Fund please send a check to:
Scott Mason Contribution Fund
336 Plymouth Street
Halifax, MA 02338
What else can you do?
Avoid New Hampshire! New Hampshire has no income tax, and is famous for balancing their budget on taxes affecting out-of-staters. The state should not place people in a position where they must measure the value of their life in the outdoors against their ability to pay. If we stay away from New Hampshire because of these risks, the state may catch on.
Contact the governor of New Hampshire and let him know that charging a young man 25K for not being rescued is absurd! Ask him to cancel the rescue fee and change the law or you will boycott the state.
Office of the Governor
25 Capitol Street
Concord, NH 03301
Contact the New Hampshire fish and wildlife division and let them know what you think. Their email: info©wildlife.nh.gov.