Monday 5 April 2010

Would you be a Knight of the Canal?

Do you ever help other boaters at locks, are you a knight of the canals?

I ask this question because, I have always been something of a proactive volunteer in the sense of giving up my leisure time in the interests of the greater good. Such as being a RSPB volunteer for instance. On the boat, if I come to a lock and there are other boats locking in the area, I will always muck in and try to help. I have even stopped for the odd lady motorists in distress and changed a tyre. However, times have changed, being a Knight of the Road, Knight of the Canal or just plain volunteering has become something of a high risk occupation.

This has all come to be since the advent of the American inspired system of  "no win no fee" litigation. Which actually means if its an open and shut case, the law practice will "accept the risk" of not being paid. However, if there is a 1% chance that the claim will fail you are on your own, or pay them up-front to act for you. The business of the much despised, vulture like, ambulance chasers has now turned our society into an "if there is a blame - there is a claim" culture. To the point where we all have to seriously look at things we do everyday and the risk this has for us and for others.

I am a trained "First Aider" I volunteered for a week long course in administering first aid. I thought it would be good for me and to the benefit of my family to have some knowledge of dealing with everyday accidents and occurrences in the home or workplace. Surprise, surprise, one full day of the course was actually spent on addressing what might happen in a number of different scenarios or situations. In particular where someone whose life you might have saved decides that you are to blame for their long term disability. Yes, you have guessed it. If in this crazy world  - I administer life saving first aid - and I am successful, I am also accepting liability for my actions. I owe them, a duty of care and therefore I am liable for my actions.

How bad is it? When we bought our current house I asked the previous owner why they were moving from such a desirable spot. They said it was because their child had no one else to to play with on the street. It seemed quite plausible at the time, though we did see a few other children of the same sort of age on the street - maybe they were just visiting! After we moved in, our new neighbour told us the real story behind their move. It seemed that there was a large amount of stone in his garden which had been used in the past to make a large fish-pond. He decided to get rid of the pond as he was looking to sell his very large 6 bedroom house and wanted the property to appeal to someone with a family. Ponds and children don't go together he was told by the estate agent. One day the previous occupants of our house asked if they could have some of the stone out of his garden to build a rockery in their garden. He said yes, help yourself without even giving it a second thought.

The wife came round into his garden and started passing some of the stone over the fence to her husband. However, whilst clambering over the pile of stone, she slipped and broke her ankle. She was in hospital for a while and off work for some time recuperating. Out of the blue, some time later our new neighbour gets a letter from a solicitor working on behalf of his neighbour! It seems that they were pursuing a claim against him. Cutting a long story short, it cost him £20,000 or rather cost his house insurance company the money for the payout. However, it cost him money in increased insurance premiums. It seems that if you agree to someone coming on your property, you have a duty of care to them and so are liable for their safety. The ill will this claim created made them both persona non grata, literally meaning "an unwelcome person" with the rest of the neighbours and they were sent to Coventry so to speak.

So what are the impacts now of this litigation free-for-all? If I want to continue to volunteer my services, It seems that I must be risk assessed then sign a liability disclaimer as well as sign a consent form. That's what we call progress. So next time you open a lock paddle for another boat, think about the possible consequences of your actions. Especially if someone should accidentally get hurt because the boat moved unexpectedly. It's your duty of care to them.

Don't even get me going on "political correctness" either.....


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