Potential new law renders travel writers liable for recommending “risky” locations

Proposed state legislation in Hawaii could potentially render guidebook authors personally liable for damage claims if a reader is injured while performing an activity suggested in the guidebook.

The Wall Street Journal writes that “a proposed state law that would hold Hawaii guidebook writers personally liable for deaths or accidents at spots they recommend.” The proposed law has been “watered down to call only for a task force, before dying in a committee. But the bill’s backers pledge to refile it if guidebooks don’t shape up,” the article reports.

The article also pointed to the case of Winter v. G.P. Putnam’s Sons, in which a couple sued a guidebook after becoming critically ill while picking mushrooms. The decision found that a publisher “does not have a duty to act as a guarantor for the contents of all books that it publishes.”

It is likely that First Amendment rights will protect writers and make it exceptionally difficult for any state to pass legislation declaring liability for guidebook suggestions. However, the issue brings up a valid point – we as writers need to realize that our words have actions, and that risks must be discussed in equal parts with the reward.

So often, in describing the positives of a location, we forget the negatives – you need to be in great shape to reach the summit of X mountain, or that pickpockets frequent up-and-coming areas we’re covering as a “best new destination.” Be sure to share the “real” travel experience and remember that your audience is often much less well-traveled than you. Don’t dumb down your content, just be sure to share the risks (and rewards) with equal treatment.

We’d love to hear your opinions – do you think this law has a chance of passing anywhere? Do you think writers should be held responsible for their suggestions?

[Flickr via steakpinball]