The Legal Vulnerabilities of Relying on Volunteers

Charitable organizations rely on their volunteer to help carry out their missions, but there is some risk to their need for external help. There are several federal and state laws that protect volunteers from being sued by a third-party. However, this risk can be transferred to the charitable organization itself.

Understanding Charitable Immunity

There are some states, such as Maryland, that have developed charitable immunity rules for organizations that may be sued for a volunteer’s action. In these cases, an organization that doesn’t have liability coverage for the injury or harm may not bear the burden of the liability of a volunteer. This doesn’t occur in all states, so a blanket protective assumption should not be made. The reason for immunity legislation, in some states, is to keep donors from having their funds used to pay for litigation or settlements rather than the charitable work itself.

Realizing Organizational Responsibility

Because of the exposures working with volunteers opens your organization too, it is important to carry liability insurance specifically for those vulnerabilities. Not all general liability policies address volunteer involvement, making it your responsibility to ensure whatever coverage you carry is comprehensive to your situations. Volunteers acting within the scope of their duties or tasks are often inclusions in an organizational policy, but crimes committed in violation of state or federal laws, while under the influence, or were violent or sexual offenses may not be covered. The volunteer is usually personally held liable in these instances.