Monday, July 9, 2012
reported on Friday, Hallandale Beach made the unusual decision in 2003 to hire a private company to run its lifeguard operation. That company assigns four lifegaurds to patrol an length the size of two football fields. A company rule provides that if any of the lifeguards leaves his assigned area, he must first notify a supervisor so that his area is covered. This protects the company from liability.
But Tomas Lopez noticed a struggling swimmer, he raced to help him, leaving his area without notifying his supervisor. Two other swimmers had brought the drowning man back to shore, but Mr. Lopez helped carry him to the beach and tended to him until the paramedics arrived. He filled out his report and was fired, but Mr. Lopez had no regrets. He had not forgotten the rule; he had chosen to disregard it. Three of his colleagues quit in solidarity; two more were fired for saying they would have done what Mr. Lopez did. Mr. Lopez's employer then offered him his job back, but Mr. Lopez declined.
This leads us to wonder (as we have wondered before) how outsourcing saves governments money. Why is it cheaper to hire a company, that one presumes is trying to make a profit, to operate your lifeguard operation than it is to run that operation yourself? Private companies can be a lot more efficient than government entities in certain ways, but as the focus on liability here suggests, they also have exposures that governments don't and, as this case illustrates, there could be instances in which a private company might do the public safety/economic efficiency analysis differently from how a government, which would likely be insulated from suit by various immunity doctrines, would do it.