Reid Comita was in the final stages of earning Eagle Scout status within the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) when he died unexpectedly on a backpacking trip amid 99-degree weather. The 15-year-old apparently collapsed and is believed to have died from heatstroke in a secluded area in western Texas. His parents have filed a wrongful death claim following the incident, which was supposed to be a beginner-level backpacking trip.
Paramedics were unable to reach the location in time to treat the boy, who had been in the Boy Scouts for several years. His mother, Copper Comita, says he was always very proud of each badge he earned while in scouting. Reid needed just one more badge of merit to obtain his 21st.
The backpacking trip was associated with the Buffalo Trail Scout Ranch and the participants were supposed to have been accompanied by two adult group leaders. His father, John Comita, thinks the trip was beyond the scope of the “beginner” level that they anticipated and blames the BSA for the outcome.
The parents think that the director should have made alternate plans to maintain safety based on the very extreme heat that day. Emergency responders flew the boy to a medical facility, yet he was unable to be revived. His parents learned of their son’s death about 4 hours later. They are both struggling to adapt to life without their son.
The details of the suit indicated that the trip was conducted contrary to the Scout guidelines by failing to have the kids accompanied by two leading adults. The civil claim seeks $1 million in compensation from the BSA. Key factors in the case will be whether the hike was too challenging for the boy and if the BSA knew that it was a risk based on his physical ability. The couple is awaiting an initial response from the BSA, who awarded Reid his last merit badge posthumously. BSA representation says they cannot comment on pending litigation but expressed their commitment to the health and safety of all scouts.
BSA Activity Consent Form (Indemnity Agreement)
For participation in Boy Scouts of America activities, parents or legal guardians generally have to sign a consent form which specifically states that participation in Scouting involves possible risks of “personal injury or death from mentally, physically, and emotionally challenging activity”. The document further says that activities are “voluntary and participants must follow rules and conduct standards”.
By signing the agreement, the organization is permitted to seek emergency medical care for participants. The provisions explicitly state that all claims based on injury, death, or loss are waived (released) against the BSA, the local chapter, coordinators, volunteers, and associated parties. It will be interesting to see how the claim progresses, particularly based on the BSA’s failure to have two adult leaders present, and how the court assesses the viability of the waiver of liability document.