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“Through thick and thin”: it’s your fault – you’re the excursion guide

“Iratxe Urrutia, a 39-year-old mountain climber from Bilbao, died of ‘hypothermia and extreme exhaustion’ on the Puerto del Peón route in the Sierra de Gredos. Two of the victim’s companions, also suffering from hypothermia, were rescued by members of the Castilla y León Government’s Search and Rescue Group…

The victims, part of a group of 19 people from Bilbao, required the intervention of a rescue helicopter since they were in a mountainous area inaccessible to vehicles.”

(Events of 29 March 2013. elcorreo.com)

The Civil Guard charged the organiser of the excursion with “failure to assist persons in danger, and reckless homicide”.

The guide (professional or not), the monitor or – if it is a group of friends – the leader of the excursion (whether paid or not) is legally responsible when a tramping or mountaineering accident occurs.

The duty to rescue

According to the Civil Code, we are all obliged to help people who need assistance unless doing so would place oneself or others at risk. You should request help under these circumstances.

If you do not, the Guardia Civil may report you to the law courts (as happened with Iratxe). They do not even have to wait for a complaint by a victim.

Is a sports policy sufficient?

Members of sports federations are covered by Civil Liability insurance that takes care of any damages caused to third parties or their property. But if you go on an excursion as an amateur or “weekend warrior” (not federated), you also need this type of policy, especially if you are the one who usually arranges the trips for your group of friends.

We also recommend taking out Accident Insurance that covers disability and death and will provide you with healthcare (imagine having to pay for a helicopter rescue from your own pocket).

If you are the leader…

Clearly notify the others of the risks, inspect the material to ensure that it is in good condition, warn the group (whether you are a professional or get paid or not) of who gives the orders (because you are considered “the leader”, then you are responsible) and explain the safety measures that must be respected.