First Aider Liability
Michael F. Bowman (mfbowman@CAP.GWU.EDU)
Sun, 11 Sep 1994 03:39:35 -0400
The issue of whether a Scoutmaster might be liable, if a Scout incorrectly
administered first aid is a difficult one to answer.
Each State has different statutes and caselaw interpreting statutes
related to acts by "Good Samaratans" who help in an emergency. Some
states have decided to grant protection to anyone who with reasonable
belief that there is an emergency tries to help with first aid. Other
states like Maryland have limited protection to only certain specialized
Depending on the State's law, if a first-aider could be found liable for
any damages caused by improper treatment, then it is also likely that the
State's law would also allow a plaintiff to name the first-aider's trainer
as a joint-tortfeasor. This is usually done to allow discovery (in this
case a legal term for the right to find facts) from the trainer about the
training given and his/her qualifications to train. Most of the time this
is a side show to get evidence to demonstrate that the first-aider knew or
should have known better than to do what he/she did. But is doesn't feel
very comfortable until the parties agree to ask the judge to drop you as a
There is always the possibility that during discovery it could come out
that the Scoutmaster had no particular training in first aid or that he
trained the Scout to use a procedure that is not endorsed by the American
Red Cross, etc. In such a case, the Scoutmaster may be in for the duration.
If he is actually found to have been negligence and damages are assessed,
then his personal insurance will have to cover the damages award up to the
policy limit unless his unit has insurance to cover him. Any liability
over his unit/personal policy limit will be covered by the BSA's
insurance, provided that he was a registered Scouter acting within the
policies and rules of Scouting.
Many units avoid the problem by having a person with specialized training
review first-aid requirements. That person could be someone with the
requisite Red Cross certifications or a medical professional with
Even though this sounds terrible, the likelihood of a Scoutmaster being
sued for teaching first aid is pretty remote unless the Scoutmaster just
ignores the first aid rules in Scouting literature and/or Red Cross
literature and teaches a practice that is unsafe or no longer considered
appropriate (yes, that means a 20 year old certification is not much good,
because first aid practices have changed and yes, that means retraining is
warranted). You can imagine a leader saying "Well I know what the book
says, but when I was a lad, I learned that a tournaquet worked real good.
You just tied off the leg, the bleeding stopped and you let the doctor
standards. Although juries may be sympathetic to a "Good Samaratan" they
have limits and probably wouldn't find much to like in someone they thought
was grossly careless.
Now if the leader stuck to the first aid methods outlined in the Scout
Handbook, his actions would be pretty defensible and the chances of
liability attaching would be nil, but never non-existent. Its also
possible to be hit by lightening on a clear day, but not likely.
If you are concerned about this problem, it is best to get advice on the
law in your particular jurisdiction. Most Council Executive Boards have a
volunteer General Counsel and most have a Health and Safety Committee.
Either can probably help you on this issue with specific information on
Yours in Scouting, Michael F. Bowman, a/k/a Professor Beaver
Deputy District Commissioner Exploring, GW Dist., NCAC, BSA
Speaking only for myself, but with Scouting Spirit . . .
____ mfbowman@CAP.GWU.EDU ____
Terry Howerton Sakima Group, Inc. SCOUTER Magazine Kansas City