The Boy Scouts of America are not liable because they owed no duty, they did not own the camp. Negligence requires a duty, and no duty exists if you are not the owners, manager, supervisor or someone who is liable.

The BSA was dismissed because the plaintiff was unable to prove the BSA supervised, owned or managed the camp where he was injured. The BSA had no custody or control of the camp. The plaintiff also failed to argue that a rule, policy, regulation or procedure of the camp had been violated.

Gomes v. Boy Scouts of America, et al., 2013 N.Y. Misc. LEXIS 4622; 2013 NY Slip Op 32453(U)

Date of the Decision: October 9, 2013

Plaintiff: Davide E. Gomes

Defendant: Boy Scouts of America, et al.,

Plaintiff Claims: failure to keep the area safe, in good repair, well-lit and free from obstruction or defect and supervise him and the other scouts

Defendant Defenses:

Holding: For the defendant Boy Scouts of America

The plaintiff, a 13-year-old Boy Scout fell leaving the shower area at a BSA council camp. He sustained injuries and sued the Boy Scouts of America and other parties.

The Boy Scouts of America moved for a dismissal claiming they were not the owners, in control of, or supervisors of the camp. The camp was owned by the Northern New Jersey Council, BSA. The Northern New Jersey Council is a separate legal entity from the Boy Scouts of America.

There was disputed testimony, whether the plaintiff was running (from witnesses) or walking along the path where he fell. It was lit inside the shower area but not lit outside. The plaintiff had a headlamp with him. During discovery, the plaintiff admitted he did not remember what happened that caused him to fall.

The BSA moved for summary judgment, which was granted by the trial court leading to this appeal.

Summary of the case

The arguments in the case are simple. Did the Boy Scouts of America own, manage, supervise or run the camp or was the camp owned by a third party. The court referred to the legal phrase, did the BSA have “custody and control” of the camp. A Boy Scout Council is a separate and distinct entity from the Boy Scouts of America. The Boy Scouts of America grants a charter (sort of like a license) to promote and use the Boy Scout program to the youth in the council’s geographic area. Boy Scout councils own camps like this one where the plaintiff was injured. The title on the deed is Northern New Jersey Council, Boy Scouts of America, not Boy Scouts of America.

The court looked at several other cases, which found the same way.

…BSA not liable for alleged negligence of charter BSA Council as there was no agency relationship between it and Council, and it lacked requisite supervision, direction, or control over adult leader who had custody of Scouts during trip at issue….

…where plaintiff died while on Scout trip, BSA granted summary judgment as it exercised no supervisory control over troop or adult leaders who accompanied scouts on trip….

The court also quoted a decision where a Council was not liable for the acts of a volunteer because the Council did not have control over the Scoutmaster. “…absent evidence that Council had supervision or control over day-to-day activities of Scout troop or scoutmaster, it could not be held liable for scoutmaster’s alleged negligent supervision…”

What caught my eye in this decision was this statement by the court.

Here, there is no issue of very young campers being unsupervised or placed in risky circumstances as plaintiff and his fellow scouts were all teenagers and there is no evidence that any camp policy was violated or that BSA had any control over the camp’s operation.

Here the court might have ruled differently if it had found that the policy of the camp had been violated.

So Now What?

The first issue is agency or ownership. The Boy Scouts of America were not liable to the camper because the BSA did not own, supervise or manage the particular piece of property where the scout was hurt. You can’t sue someone for negligence, unless they owed a duty to you. If you don’t own, manager or supervise the place where the plaintiff was injured you can’t be negligent because you owe no duty to that person.

Of greater interest is the fact the camp had no policies that were violated, which lead to the injury of the plaintiff. As a camp director of a BSA, GSA or any other camp or operation, you need to understand that the rules, regulations, policies and procedures that you write for your camp are going to be used as the rule, the standard, against which you will be judged at trial.

Don’t write rules, policies, regulations, or policies you can’t live up to.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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