Sun. Dec. 1, 2019

by Eric Reuter, Field Trip Chair

As Field Trip Chair, I have been researching liability questions for non-profits engaged in outdoor activities; this has opened a can of worms that must now be addressed. Because field trips are a core part of the Columbia Audubon Society (CAS) mission, the board has approved my formation of a committee to discuss and address matters such as:

  • Overarching goals and strategies for field trips
  • Liability insurance & individual waivers for field trips
  • Common-sense safety guidelines for field trip leaders and attendees

I am seeking volunteers willing to serve on such a committee; please contact me. Any members are welcome, but members with legal or insurance experience would be especially appreciated.

Liability is something that all non-profits and businesses must consider in the modern world. CAS has insurance that covers our own properties, but currently has no coverage for any liability involved in organizing field trips in the surrounding region. Field trips do involve some risk, from the inherent dangers involved in driving and carpooling to the variety of injuries or illnesses that can result from spending time outdoors. (Unfortunately, the fact that field trips can provide considerable physical and mental health benefits—fresh air, exercise, interaction with nature, camaraderie, mental stimulation, and so forth—counts for nothing with regard to financial liability.) CAS, or its individual trip leaders, could be held liable for any problem that arises, whether through an individual lawsuit or a claim pursued by an insurance company. This poses a potential threat to the group’s financial and operational stability.

The National Audubon Society recommends a liability policy offered by Pachner & Associates that is specifically designed for local Audubon chapters. However, Treasurer Eric Seaman reports that this policy requires CAS to adopt a liability waiver that must be signed by all field trip participants, something that is increasingly common for such groups across the country. In fact, we cannot even get a direct quote on the policy until we design and present a proposed waiver for approval by the insurance company. One task of the committee will be to address proposed waiver design (hopefully minimizing bureaucracy and intrusiveness).

This work is timely as we continue to offer field trips throughout the winter, though we may hold back on longer-range carpool-based trips while this issue is being resolved. I’d also be interested in any feedback members may want to provide on the specific issue of liability or the more general question of field trip management (we may end up conducting an official member poll of some kind, another question for the committee).