Liability vs Reimbursement for Volunteer Cave Guides

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Liability vs Reimbursement for Volunteer Cave Guides

Postby Patricia Bingham » Jan 28, 2006 7:55 am

I think most cavers know that accepting payment for cave guiding puts them at higher risk of liability, but what about reimbursement for expenses? Gas, food, lodging, etc can get kind of expensive, especially for those who take groups out on a regular basis.

How about requiring a donation or membership to an organization? In WV or VA, one cave owner required cavers to make a donation to an environmental group. The way the laws are written, this was felt to add to the liability risk to the owner. I understand the owner no longer requires this.

How about grottos requiring a donation for borrowing gear? Some grottos have dropped this requirement, while others have stopped loaning gear out to groups that are not made up entirely of grotto members, which, IMHO is a bit extreme.

Should folks accept reimbursement before or only after a trip, depending on if there are any injuries, etc?
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Postby NZcaver » Jan 28, 2006 8:47 am

Aah, yes - the great American obsession with liability... :wink:

I've heard that even mere "reimbursement" can sometimes be a liability problem. However, I imagine physically covering expenses as they are incurred should be fine. Paying for a meal, or putting gas in the vehicle - that sort of thing.

"Requiring donations" is a touchy thing too - not to mention a contradiction! A few years ago, my grotto bought helmets and lights to lend out to new cavers. At the time, there was some discussion about whether the grotto should ask people for a donation when they use them. This was decided against, but not just for perceived liability reasons. A wise grotto member pointed out that a big reason for loaning out gear is to encourage new people to come caving - and perhaps even join the grotto. Charging a "donation" might be just one more reason for someone not to try caving.

Bottom line - I think we (NSS cavers or not) need to invest in the survival of our sport/interest, even if it means shouldering a little of the cost to get some newbies caving... :cool:
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Postby Wayne Harrison » Jan 28, 2006 11:11 am

You get into another layer of responsibility out here in the West.

It is my understanding that in order to be paid to lead a group on federal land (National Forest), you have to have an outfitter's license and that requires a full application, proof of insurance, etc. If you accept payment as a guide on federal land, you are considered an outfitter.
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Postby Teresa » Jan 28, 2006 3:22 pm

Again, it depends upon what is meant by paid.
The Midwest has similar cave for pay on public land requirements on paper.

However, if the person is 'paying' for required insurance carried by the organization (Hosteling International trip requirements for example), to reimburse trip expenses (bus rental, gasoline, meal) or even a small fee to ensure participation (You must pay $5 to hold your place on the trip, which goes to cover administrative expenses such as tickets or paperwork), none of the money exchange takes place on public land, and no one is being paid for their time or knowledge in actually guiding, it is not considered cave-for-pay, because no profit is being made.

Frequency is also a factor in determining if one is an outfitter or this is just an occasional trip where expenses are incurred in order for people to participate.

A canoe outfitter who makes his living off public lands every day of the year is treated differently than a guided busload of tourists who are doing a fall colors tour once a year, and cover their own expenses and that of a volunteer guide in doing so.

This is definitely a local mileage varies by regional interpretation issue.
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Postby amaddox » Jan 30, 2006 8:57 am

I don't know what the laws are here, and most of the caves are on private land. Some groups have offered to make a donation to the grotto for helping them. They are very grateful that we take our time to help them for nothing but a chance to go caving with them. This is helpful to us. Last year we bought new helmets and headlamps specifically for youth. But we don't charge for this service.

I don't know about other youth groups, but my experiance when I was a Scoutmaster was that most activities you payed for. Rafting, skiing, scuba, swimming, you have to pay for some facility use and sometimes a guide.
Just an observation, not an opinion.

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Postby Dan Sullivan » Jan 30, 2006 11:03 am

If a group wants to fill my gas tank and pay for it, I wouldn't say no. Same with dinner. If they want to take me out after a trip, I'd go along. Same with a hotel room, although it would more than likely be at a Nation Forest Service campground. I would let them pay for my camp site if they offered. I just don't except cash, only donations to our grotto or Williams Canyon project in the form of a check.

I guess what I'm getting at is..... I'll except a barter as long as it doesn't include, me paying for it with cash they have given me, for my expenses.
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Postby cave rat » Jan 30, 2006 11:41 pm

Same here Dan. If a BSA Troop or group, ask me how much do I charge take them caving, I say not a thing. But if they offer to put gas in my truck, feed me, or pay for my campsite, I say sure.

The way gas is these days, every little bit helps. I don't mind gas in my tank or a good meal, for taking a group caving.
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Postby icave » Jan 31, 2006 10:46 am

When a group asks me if they can give something in return for leading a trip, I always say no. However, I also let them know that they can become a member of the grotto or make a dontation to the grotto. I would never tell someone that making a dontation is a requirement.

As for grotto gear, I expect that it is returned in the same condition it was sent out in, and batteries/carbide are to be provided by the user.
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Postby kvart » Feb 1, 2006 8:30 am

I can tell you how the FAA handles this. Being a Private Pilot, I can not accept personal compensation to fly someone from point A to point B. But.........that passenger can share in the expense of fuel and maintenance.


Now, for my $0.02.....

If you are volunteering for something.......keep it at that.
About the only compensation I can think of I would accept would be a if I took a Scout group caving and they were having some Trash Can Turkey for dinner and I was invited to share the campfire and food.

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