Fair go sinks with­out trace Life­savers sued by those they save

Townsville Bulletin - - NEWS - PETER HALL

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.

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