Fair go sinks without trace Lifesavers sued by those they save
SURF lifesavers are being sued by the very people whose lives they are saving.
In the ultimate insult to our heroes of the surf, News Corp Australia can reveal the rising tide of public liability lawsuits has become so costly it could threaten the future of the movement.
Surf Life Saving Queensland ( SLSQ) says the state is now a hunting ground for those looking to cash in on incidents at beaches, in clubhouse surrounds, or at supporters’ clubs that raise vital funds.
Surprisingly, action is being launched by stricken swimmers hurt outside the red and yellow flags and attended by SLSQ members prepared to go the extra distance to help them.
This includes a beachgoer injured in a collision with a surfer 300m from the patrol at Noosa and a triathlete who almost drowned because of a medical episode in North Queensland.
Even a city council is suing the water safety body after one of its lifeguards fell on wet tiles and was injured in the shower area at a local surf club, which council leases to lifesaving.
Most cases involve members of the public, but some are launched by lifesavers injured during training or patrols.
SLSQ administration and compliance manager Craig Williams said the state organisation had been swamped with 32 recent claims and related costs of almost $ 1 million.
Mr Williams said current cases were likely to see additional losses of more than $ 500,000.
He said public liability insurance was arranged nationally with the annual premium of about $ 1 million shared between states.
However, because of Queensland’s high number of claims – and payouts – it now had to pay 50 per cent of the premium.
“We self- insure for the first $ 50,000 of every claim and because many are in the low range, we’re taking quite a few hits,’’ Mr Williams said.
“The impact of the litigation is significant and it means we have to fundraise more and, obviously, money that should be spent protecting beachgoers is going towards paying these people.’’
Mr Williams said no- win, no- fee “billboard’’ lawyers were exploiting opportunities.
Queensland Law Society president Christine Smyth said Queensland had one of the fairest common- law compensation schemes in the world and it was important anyone visiting one of the state’s many pristine beaches was protected against injury due to negligence.
Ms Smyth defended “nowin, no fee’’ lawyers, saying they would only take on a claim when they believed their client’s case had legal merit.
“If there has been an increase in claims, SLSQ may need to consider reviewing its practices and venues to ensure they are safe and do not pose any unreasonable risk of injury,’’ she said.