Topic: Business & Commercial

"My Hero!" "That Will be $900, Please. No Checks!"
(3/2/2007)

Two men who skiied out of bounds at Mad River Valley Ski Resort in Vermont were charged $900 for their rescue. The resort began to search for the skiers when they missed a scheduled evening check-in on Valentine's Day, when a blizzard covered the area in three feet of snow. Foot teams and snowcats were sent out to find the men, and did within in a few hours. A spokesman for the resort said the $900 was to cover overtime costs for the search teams.

The Scoreboard is troubled by this one. Obviously, the resort expended resources for the benefit of the two men, and may choose to charge them for having the ill-manners to get lost. But rescuing those in need who are living under your roof is usually an obligation and a duty, and also an expression of basic human kindness and support. It is defensible to charge, but is it right?

There are laws in some states that permit a voluntary rescuer to sue the object of his or her rescue effort if it results in an injury to the rescuer, on the theory that the victim put the rescuer in peril by negligently getting in a situation that inspired a rescue. I salute the enterprise of the creative personal injury lawyer who first thought that one up, but it bothers me for the same reason as the ski resort's bill: aren't human beings supposed to want to rescue each other? This should be a pure Golden Rule situation: we rescue others because we would want them to rescue us, and to do it because it's the right thing to do. The ski resort's approach is reminiscent of the situation in some cities before the introduction of public fire departments, when a private fire company might stand and watch a home burn if the owner had neglected to pay his last bill. Imagine life guards leaving an invoice with gasping bathers in the sand: "$100 for rescue 50 yards or more from the shore; $30 penalty for ignoring whistle; $50 for mouth-to-mouth resuscitation; $5 for washed-off tanning lotion. Rescue Tax: 10% Gratuity: $36. Total Due: $231.50"

It doesn't seem right, somehow. It's supposed to work this way: victim puts self in mortal in peril, rescuer saves him or her, grateful victim offers reward, noble rescuer turns it down and walks into the sunset; victim sighs in gratitude. I can't say it's unethical to demand payment for a rescue, but it has to be the least admirable way of doing a good deed imaginable.

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