You cannot be liable for what you do not control or what volunteers do

Moore v. Boy Scouts of America Los Angeles Area Council, Inc., 2004 Cal. App. Unpub. LEXIS 11180

It is also hard to be liable for not watching where you are walking

This case stems from injuries received when a volunteer was setting up a tent and fell over one of the guy lines for the tent.

The plaintiff was a volunteer and with other volunteers was setting up a large tent at a Scout Camp. The camp was owned by the Los Angeles Area Council, Inc. which was granted a charter by the Boy Scouts of America to offer the Scouting program to local youth. The tent was a large military wall tent, similar to what you would see on reruns of M*A*S*H.

While setting up the tent, another volunteer asked the plaintiff to get more tent stakes. She walked around the tent, picked up more stakes and while walking back tripped over one of the guy lines holding up the tent. None of the guy lines had been marked with flags or markers to indicate there was a line there and the accident occurred around 7:00 Pm in July. (None are marked in the M*A*S*H reruns either.) The factual issue became whether or not markers or flags should have been used to identify the guy-lines on the tents.

The court went through and clearly identified factual issues the court felt were important.

Moore had not set up the specific pole, rope or stake upon which she tripped.

The ropes coming off the tent were at varying angles and pitches. The ropes varied in length, de-pending upon location. There were no flags or markers on the ropes.

Before this date, Moore had never been involved in setting up or taking down this tent or this type of tent. However, in years past, Moore had used rope or flags to mark the guy ropes on this tent to make the ropes more visible.

Before Moore fell, neither Moore nor any of the other adult volunteers saw anything they considered unsafe or dangerous.

In the past, some of the adult volunteers had used markers (e.g., cloth or fluorescent plastic tape) to make ropes more visible in scout camps and in non-scout camping situations. In prior years, this tent had been used in the Boy Scout camp, and flags had been used to mark the ropes. It is unclear if markers were used each time the tent was used.

The plaintiff argued the BSA did not have a policy of marking guy lines with markers or flags.

The plaintiff sued for premises liability and negligence. The premises liability claim was based on negligently setting up a tent without guy lines and the negligence claim for not using reasonable care when setting up tents by not using markers on guy-lines.

The Boy Scouts filed a motion for summary judgment based on the fact there was no triable issues, no real legal claims, which was granted and the plaintiff appealed.


The plaintiff’s main arguments were supported by its expert an ergonomist who was a human factors and safety consultant. (This has me confused too, as to why an ergonomist (whatever) has any knowledge of setting up a tent.) The ergonomist said that that groups in Virginia, Australia and Louisiana has policies on markers on tent lines.

The court first looked at the premises liability claim. A premises liability claim is based on a dangerous condition on land. The owner of land is liable for “only for hazardous conditions of which the possessor had actual or constructive knowledge.” The tent was not part of the land so there was no legal basis for a premises liability claim.

The negligence claim was also dismissed by the court. Since the tent was being set up by volunteers, there was no proof that the BSA created the dangerous condition or was aware that a dangerous condition existed. The BSA could not breach a duty of care when the actions which created a dangerous condition were not those of the BSA. Nor does the lack of a policy create a dangerous condition on land. The plaintiff’s argument the court reasoned, where closer to tent issues not land issues.

So Now What?

The legal issues are as stretched in this case as you can get in my opinion. You are setting up a tent by setting up guy lines; you can’t sue when you trip over a guy line.

The claims were incorrect for the facts. The court looked at the issues and could not find any legal connection between the facts, the claims and the law.

However, that does not mean that not watching where you walk might not lead to litigation at some future date that does hold some water.

You can write policies till there are no more trees. In doing so, you’ll probably sink some other group who is trying to save trees. Better to educate than kill a tree. Train your volunteers, prove you trained them, and then explain how the organization they are volunteering for cannot afford lawsuits, stupid ones or regular ones. By that I mean include litigation training; you can’t sue us, in the training you provide.

Explain how it is their job to protect each other as well as to protect the organization. Tell them and prove you told them that you cannot identify all of the risks they may encounter.

You might even have them sign a release.

Plaintiff: Josephine Moore


Defendant: Boy Scouts of America Los Angeles Area Council, Inc.


Plaintiff Claims: Premises Liability and Negligence


Defendant Defenses: not triable issues of fact, no negligence


Holding: Trial court dismissal was affirmed



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4 Comments on “You cannot be liable for what you do not control or what volunteers do”

  1. Emma says:

    I agree completely with the outcome of this case. The plaintiff had nothing solid to stand on. There were no policies for this camp saying markers should be put on guy lines. Her injuries were the result of her not paying attention to her surroundings. The BSA had no legal duty to put markers on the guy lines, therefor there was no neglect in this case. If there were policies stating markers should be put on all guy lines in the process of putting up a tent, the plaintiff may have had a case.


  2. Josh Glover says:

    l have never heard of someone trying to sue for not watching their step. This was a surprising incident to me that i feel the plaintiff got to fired up about. There are always going to be small risk with everything we do. Maybe instead of insisting to sue, they should have just set down and figured out a reasonable policy to make setting up this tent safer.


  3. Charles A. Ferguson, Jr. says:

    It struck me that one might admonish volunteer supervisors, who are setting up tents, that if a plastic strip, quickly affixed to the guy wire enhances visibility and prevents falls, (demonstrably?) then it’s probably a common sense precaution, regardless of what the law does or does not say. This case speaks for itself, but seems as if there’s a larger point.

    IOW: if it is a wise safety precaution, there’s every reason to adopt the practice and no reason not to.


    • Jim Moss says:

      Probably, but at some point in time you take the risk away from the activity and ruin the activity. You have ten tents around you and every guy wire has fluttering strips on them. Sure it makes sense, but there has to be some balance. I use reflective guy wires so you see them at night, but I’m not going to 1) carry the extra weight and 2) make my tent a flag. At what point are your responsible for yourself walking around. If you can’t see a line that is 6″ to 6′ off the ground.

      I agree with what you are saying, but I also disagree with the concept that my job is to protect you all the time. LOL I have a heard enough time protecting myself.



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