Organizations still have liability from volunteers

Mistakes or misdeeds by volunteers can reflect badly on a nonprofit or, worse, make it vulnerable to legal action. The volunteer can even face personal liability. The fact that volunteers are not paid does not protect an organization from liability any more than the fact that the nonprofit’s mission is a philanthropic one.

According to Siobhan Kelley, a labor employment risk manager with the Nonprofits Insurance Alliance Group, the federal Volunteer Protection Act of 1997 offers qualified immunity for volunteers for acts of ordinary negligence that were committed while volunteering for a qualified nonprofit or governmental organization.

It is important to understand, however, that such “Good Samaritan” laws are intended to protect individual volunteers and not organizations. Under the act, volunteers will not be held personally liable if the following conditions are met:

  • They acted within the scope of their responsibilities;
  • They were properly licensed or certified (if required under the circumstances);
  • The harm was not caused by negligence and was not willful or reckless misconduct; and,
  • The harm was not caused by the volunteer operating a motor vehicle, vessel, aircraft or other vehicle for which the owner or operator is required to possess an operator’s license or maintain insurance.