I really enjoy hiking in the White Mountains. I took the picture above last Saturday on Doublehead South in Jackson, New Hampshire. It was a beautiful day but it was only about 25-30 degrees at the top with a wind chill near 0. I have to admit that I wasn’t prepared for the cold weather.
So how does the law relate to hiking in the White Mountains? Well in 1999 New Hampshire passed RSA 153:A-24 (http://www.gencourt.state.nh.us/rsa/html/xii/153-a/153-a-24.htm) that allows the State to hold people liable, up to $10,000, for the emergency response that results from a person's intentional or reckless behavior. The New Hampshire Fish and Game strengthened the law to also include negligent actions, not just reckless or intentional conduct. (http://www.gencourt.state.nh.us/rsa/html/XVIII/206/206-26-bb.htm) This is sometimes referred to as the "reckless hiker law."
The legal significance between reckless/intentional actions and negligent actions is actually quite large. For the State to find a person negligent it must merely show that a person had a duty and that duty was breached. This is a much easier standard to satisfy and lowers the amount of “fault” required to find a hiker liable for the costs associated with his or her rescue.
The Fish & Game HikeSafe website (http://www.hikesafe.com) tries to define this duty with their Hikers Responsibility Code. This code says that hikers have a responsibility to:
- Learn about the terrain, conditions, weather, and equipment needed to perform the hike.
- Let others know when and where they are hiking.
- Stay together if hiking in a group.
- Turn back or seek shelter due to bad weather or fatigue.
- Be prepared for emergencies.
Every year New Hampshire spends $260,000 on rescuing stranded and injured hikers. If a hiker does receive a rescue bill they have only 30 days to pay the amount in full. If the bill is not paid, Fish and Game can attempt to have that person's driver's licence revoked.
The rationale behind this law isn’t just to cover the cost of the rescue, but to provide a monetary deterrent to those who might come to the White Mountains unprepared for hiking. Many people feel that the law comes across as harsh and unwelcoming. Hiking and “eco-tourism” is one of local economies biggest contributors. The reality is that many people underestimate the difficulty associated with hiking the White Mountains and New Hampshire merely wants people to recognize the danger.
Panoramic view from Doublehead South
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