Wildlife Tours And Personal Liability
Florida is home to the Everglades, and if you keep going north up the center of the state you’ll find plenty of swamps, lakes, and forests teeming with wildlife. But not all of that wildlife is safe to be around: black bears roam the forests and both crocodiles and alligators call the wetlands of Florida home. And even if you stay clear of the wildlife, swamps and forests don’t exactly follow OSHA standards. So who is responsible for your safety if you’re injured on a tour of Florida’s natural beauty?
If you decide to march out into the wilderness with no guide and you blaze your own trail, then you are the only person responsible for your safety. Even if you’re wandering through a state or federal park or forest, the government has no responsibility for anything that happens to you when you leave the paved and patrolled trails behind. The fact that the wilderness is dangerous and unpredictable is commonly known, and by going into it either alone or in a group you’re implying that you can take care of your own safety.
For that matter, the government doesn’t guarantee your safety even when you are on the trails. By creating a trail the government has an obligation to maintain the trail and keep it safe for the pedestrians and vehicles allowed to use it, but the trails don’t have to have the safety features of an interstate road and natural disasters like rockslides and floods can and will destroy trails. And since it takes time and money to bring heavy equipment into the middle of a forest, you can’t expect them to repair the damage quickly.
When you hire a guide to take you on a tour of a wilderness area, you can reasonably expect that your guide will keep you safe during the tour. Still, things can happen that a guide can’t control, especially if a tourist ignores the guide’s instructions. Because of this unpredictability, tour guides who go into dangerous areas will usually ask you to sign a waiver that frees the tour guide company of any liability.
However, a waiver isn’t always ironclad. Just like how you can’t sign away your constitutional rights in a contract, a waiver doesn’t free a tour guide of all responsibility. If he or she is recklessly negligent, no waiver is strong enough to protect that behavior. But this means something obviously negligent like encouraging a tourist to feed a crocodile by hand. If a guide doesn’t notice a crocodile in time to warn the tourist, that is something you can cover in a waiver.
The world is a dangerous place, from the middle of the city to the cypress trees of the Everglades. But the city and everyone in it has an obligation to keep things as safe as possible and offer warnings when danger is unavoidable. The plants and animals of the Florida swamps don’t have this obligation, and so even if you aren’t alone out there you need to lower your expectations of safety.