In 2002 the WA government introduced legislation which, among other things, sought to limit liability where individuals are injured or die, having effectively taken an obvious risk. In introducing the Civil Liability Act 2002 (WA) the legislature looked to avoid rewarding an injured person who was voluntarily involved in a dangerous recreational activity and the harm was a result of an obvious risk of that activity.
However, this is only part of the story when assessing the impact on society of individual risk-taking. Take for example the seemingly innocuous pastime of bushwalking. Extensive education campaigns have been undertaken in multiple States to ensure bushwalkers take every possible precaution to avoid unnecessary risk when walking in remote areas. Even so, people still set out perilously underprepared and require expensive and time consuming rescues.
It is reported that for every hour police helicopters are used to search for such people the cost is between $2,500 and $12,000. These helicopters are also supported on the ground by volunteers whose resources could otherwise be used to assist others.
When the navy is called to carry out rescues for sailors, the costs can quickly exceed millions of dollars. Regardless of the individual having potentially chosen to take on the inherent risks, the bill for such rescues is almost always the responsibility of taxpayers. The 2008 rescue of sailor Yann Elies resulted in a bill for tax-payers of approximately $1 million, and the Tony Bullimore rescue in 1997 is estimated to have cost $6 million.
The cost of rescuing or retrieving rock fishermen is now borne by all home owners through the Emergency Services Levy. In 2015 a NSW Coronial Inquiry estimated that each body retrieval costs between $450,000 – $600,000. Every recent inquiry held on rock fishing has recommended that fishermen wear life jackets compatible with the sport, which can be loaned from local suppliers.
Although the Civil Liability legislation responds in part to controlling the costs of individual risk-taking, what remains is still a significant tax-payer funded system that continues to look after those who fail to look after themselves.