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New Hampshire court rules hiker must pay rescue bill

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CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — A Michigan man injured during a 2012 hike in New Hampshire must pay for the cost of his rescue, the New Hampshire Supreme Court ruled Thursday.

Edward Bacon of Northville, Michigan, was on a five-day solo hike in September 2012 when he dislocated his hip and had to be carried for almost four miles over rough terrain in heavy rain.

The state Fish and Game department charged him $9,200 after a judge found him negligent, but Bacon appealed that ruling to the high court, which rejected his argument Thursday.

Bacon argued he was prepared for the conditions, physically capable and had adequately planned his hike. But the state said his preparation was insufficient — he trained in a park with 250-foot hills and some "gravelly" spots — and that he was negligent in trying to jump backward over a ledge after having dislocated his hip five other times. The court also found that he continued hiking despite encountering high winds and rain early in the day.

"We agree with the trial court's conclusions that the defendant's injury was foreseeable and directly caused his need to be rescued," the court said in its unanimous ruling.

In a phone interview, 62-year-old Bacon said the court relied on Fish and Game's version of events, which he disputes. He said the weather information he received from other hikers that morning indicated that he would have plenty of time to complete his hike before the rain and wind picked up. He also defended his training regimen, saying it was adequate for building strength, and said that contrary to what authorities said, he did not fall but rather dislocated his hip by jumping onto the ledge. He said his doctors had cleared him for hiking and never told him jumping could pose a risk.

"I have no recollection of saying I fell. It's kind of not fair — I was up there for six hours with a dislocated hip, in pain. Who knows what I said?" he said. "By the time I got to the emergency room, I was totally exhausted and they were pumping painkillers into me."

Bacon's rescue was one of more than 900 search and rescues conducted by Fish and Game between 2006 and 2012 at a total cost of $1.8 million, paid for by fees added to boat and off-road vehicle registrations. Since 2008, the state has been able to bill those found negligent for the cost of their rescues. And since January, the state has been selling $25 "Hike Safe" cards that allow buyers to avoid being held liable if they need to be rescued due to negligence.

Fish and Game Capt. John Wimsatt said he was pleased the court agreed that Bacon was negligent.

"The important piece for us at Fish and Game is our department only has limited resources, personnel and funding to serve out our mission, including search and rescue," he said.

Bacon, an automotive engineer whose father grew up in New Hampshire, said he has hiked the state's mountains hundreds of times and had even considered retiring there. Not anymore, he said Thursday. And while he has hiked the same area of Franconia Notch twice since 2012, he doesn't know if he will return.

"It has soured me at this point," he said. "I'm looking at western mountains at the moment."

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