CONCORD — The state Supreme Court ruled on Thursday that an injured hiker has to pay more than $9,000 for a rescue made necessary by his own negligence.
The justices unanimously affirmed a lower court ruling ordering Edward Bacon of Michigan to pay $9,186, plus court costs and interest, to cover expenses incurred by the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department during the September 2012 rescue in the White Mountains.
Bacon began a five-day solo trip, planning to hike several mountains with summits higher than 5,000 feet. At the time of the hike, the 59-year-old had undergone four hip surgeries since 2005 and had an artificial hip that had dislocated five times. He trained for the hike in a Michigan park with 250-foot hills, according to court documents.
Despite weather reports of heavy rain and high winds, Bacon began the hike on Sept. 18. He lost his pack cover to strong winds, and after slipping on loose gravel lost his tent, which fell into a ravine, but he continued until encountering a waist-high rock ledge.
When attempting to jump backward up onto the ledge, he fell and dislocated his hip on the trail between Little Haystack and Lincoln mountains.
Approximately 15 Fish and Game personnel and 35 volunteers participated in the rescue during the afternoon and evening of Sept. 18 and early morning hours of Sept. 19.
Bacon testified he was unaware of the weather conditions on the day of the hike because he did not have his reading glasses with him, and that he did not encounter any significant rain or wind, even though he took pictures of other hikers that day wearing full rain gear with their hoods over their heads.
Bacon’s lawyers argued that the state had not produced sufficient evidence that he acted negligently, claiming that he was prepared for the conditions, physically capable, had proper equipment and had adequately planned his hike.
The Supreme Court endorsed the trial court conclusion that Bacon “did not act as a reasonably prudent hiker would have acted under the same circumstances,” and that his injury was foreseeable. The court also rejected an argument by Bacon’s attorneys that the award was unreasonable and amounted to a “windfall” for Fish and Game.
The attorney general took advantage of the ruling to remind hikers of the state’s HikeSafe card, which exempts card-holders from liability even in cases of negligence.
The holder of a HikeSafe card would only be liable for the cost of a rescue if the rescue was due to more serious reckless or intentional conduct.
HikeSafe cards at $25 per person and $35 per family can be purchased through the Fish and Game website.