Misconceptions in the outdoor and adventure industry are about as common as backpacks and compasses. Everyone has an opinion, an anecdote, a theory, or is willing to share a myth about procedures, like the importance of standards, or events, such as what you can or can’t say to the victims if a tragedy were to occur.

So, how do you tell the difference between what is true and what is false? Or be discerning about what is fact versus fiction? Most important, how do you ensure that the decisions you’re making for your business are based on the reality of how things are and not just an impression of how things should be?

The Fred C. Church Outdoor + Adventure team addresses misconceptions on a daily basis that we gladly debunk for our clients. As a matter of fact, clients come to us so regularly with new hypotheses about managing risks in this industry that we decided to share some of the many interesting concepts we’ve heard – and evaluated – in a series we’re calling “Top Outdoor and Adventure Myths Debunked.”

Throughout this series, we will not only be sharing the most common myths and misconceptions with you, but also recruiting some of our most highly-regarded partners, including prestigious educators, experienced lawyers, and top executives, as our guest myth-busters. With the help of these experts, we will make sure we have looked at these belief sets analytically and through a panoramic lens. From OSHA regulations and Murphy’s Law to liability waivers that you use with your clients, students or guests, the topics we will cover are wide-ranging and critical to your day-to-day business operations.

The first myth we want to cover is based on a common saying everyone has heard at least once, if not hundreds of times in their life…
Outdoor + Adventure Myth #1: “If something can go wrong, it usually will.” (Murphy’s Law)

We thought that addressing this popular adage from a risk management perspective would be a great starting point for our myth-busters series. Because, on a daily basis, the risks that your organization faces sets you apart from most run-of-the-mill businesses. If something goes wrong in your world, then people could die.

So, does this myth hold true when we take a closer look?
According to our colleague, Reb Gregg, a leading attorney, lecturer, and writer in legal liability issues for adventure, education and recreation based outdoor programs – in other words, an overall industry guru – “Murphy’s Law” is, well, just plain wrong.

Below, Reb not only explains why he disagrees with this long-held belief, but he also offers an alternative way to think and prepare for worst-case scenarios:

With apologies to the Murphy family, this “law,” in my experience, is incorrect and is a dangerous risk management tenet.

Let me suggest, instead, this law: “If something can go wrong, it usually won’t.” Mine is more accurate than Murphy’s, I believe, and poses a challenge for responsible management of the risks of an adventure program.

When things don’t go wrong, our inclination is to believe we are doing those things right. In fact, however, we may simply be lucky. More significantly, the apparent “rightness” of things reduces any impulse to better understand the operational and legal implications of what we do and don’t do.

To reduce losses and legal liability consider the following plan:

  1. Identify the risks of your activities and assess your ability to manage those risks. If you cannot manage the risks of an activity, do not do it.
  2. Identify the bad events which might arise from your “acceptable” risks, and determine how best to avoid those outcomes.
  3. Develop an emergency action plan to deal with the bad events when they occur, and take steps to reduce the chances of their happening again.
  4. Inform your clients of the inherent and other risks of your activities and the possible consequences of those risks, and emphasize that their management is a joint responsibility – yours and the clients’.

An effective risk management plan is just that – a plan for dealing with a future bad event. Don’t be seduced by what may be merely good luck. “Hasn’t happened” doesn’t mean “won’t happen.” “Unprecedented” doesn’t mean “impossible.” Identifying and managing your risks now reduces losses to your clients and possible legal liability in the future. Understand what can go wrong, decide what you will do should it go wrong, and determine how best to reduce the chances of it happening again.

As Reb Gregg has pointed out, even events with a positive outcome should be approached as learning opportunities. When you reflect on your own experiences in the Outdoor + Adventure Industry, can you think of any situations in which there was an eventual good outcome in spite of a poor decision at the outset? In these instances, the people who are responsible for managing organizational risk might even take credit for having a great risk management strategy when, in fact, their staff and clients were just very fortunate, and their practices had little to do with everything turning out well.

The Fred C. Church Outdoor + Adventure team has worked with many of the top outdoor and adventure-based organizations throughout the United States, giving us the opportunity to educate others on the importance of proper risk management and how to recognize when things are going off course. We look forward to sharing more of what we have learned – and introducing you to another colleague and iconic figure in our industry – in the next installment of our myth-busting series. This time, we will tackle the belief that there is no harm in your employees using their personal vehicles to drive participants to and from an event site. In reality, if you, your field instructors, or anybody else working for you is doing this, then it could be setting your company up for a very serious exposure in the event of an accident. We are looking forward to having Mike Lucas, Vice President at Fred C. Church Insurance, who is well known in the industry for his risk management best practices and passion for outdoor-based activities, uncover the truths and the myths behind this idea.

Learn more about the Fred C. Church Outdoor + Adventure team by visiting us online or contacting us at 978.322.7272.

About the Expert: Reb Gregg
Reb Gregg is a practicing attorney in Houston, Texas, specializing in managing the risks of legal liability in recreation and adventure programs. He is a frequent speaker and author in the field, and consults regularly with domestic and international outdoor programs, climbing gyms, challenge courses and aerial adventure tours. He currently serves on the Risk Management committee of a number of organization, and for several years, he served as legal counsel to The National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS).

For more information visit: rebgregg.com


The Fred C. Church myth series is intended to spark ideas and conversation around the risks our business associates and clients face on a daily basis. Although we hope you learn from our distinguished experts, before making any insurance or legal decisions that could affect your organization we recommend you first consult with your attorney or insurance broker.