One of the most rewarding experiences in life can be to serve as a volunteer. Each and every day volunteers make make a difference in our society by contributing their time, energy, and skills to the community. Whether it be through local recreational programs or professional volunteering services (such as a pro bono doctor or lawyer), volunteer work is highly regarded and should always be appreciated.
However, an increasing number of individuals are becoming reluctant to participate in a volunteer capacity out of a fear of potential liability from those they seek to help. This despite the fact that lawsuits against volunteers are a rare occurrence. In response, the Volunteer Protection Act of 1997 was passed to encourage volunteerism by establishing a comprehensive and consistent approach to volunteer legal immunity.
In general, the Volunteer Protection Act (VPA) provides volunteers of nonprofit organizations immunity from civil lawsuits from someone who believes that they have been hurt by the volunteer. The Act was designed to extend traditional notions of charitable immunity, sovereign immunity, and Good Samaritan laws found at the state levels to the federal level.
Specifically, the Volunteer Protection Act provides certain protections from liability abuses related to volunteers serving nonprofit organizations and governmental entities. The VPA applies only to individuals, and not to the organization for which you volunteer.
The Volunteer Protection Act applies to individuals working at any nonprofit organization that is organized for a public benefit. In order to receive the protection of the Act, you must meet the following five requirements:
It is important to keep in mind that the immunity is a qualified immunity. Even if you meet all of the requirements, there are certain kinds of conduct and actions for which, as a matter of policy, there is no federal immunity. Such actions include crimes of violence, acts of international terrorism, hate crimes, sexual offenses, civil rights violations, and crimes involving the use of alcohol or drugs.
No. The Volunteer Protection Act does not prohibit a nonprofit or governmental agency from taking appropriate civil action against you, nor does it prohibit a state agency from establishing its own conditions or exceptions to volunteer liability protection. Potential state exceptions to the VPA may include specific state laws that require adherence to particular risk management procedures such as mandatory safety training of volunteers. Likewise, states may pass laws that make organizations liable for the acts of its volunteers to the same extent as their employees.
The Volunteer Protection Act does not apply if a state has an express statute against volunteer immunity. A number of states have passed legislation that deals only with volunteer health care providers, while a few states make reference only to volunteers generally. Specifically, Alaska, California, Massachusetts, Nebraska, New Mexico, New York and Vermont have not passed any legislation dealing with volunteer immunity.
If your volunteer activities have resulted in any form of legal action, you should speak with an experience attorney who can guide you through the your legal rights as a volunteer. An attorney can help determine if you are immune from liability under the Volunteer Protection Act or any state law in your jurisdiction. Remember, volunteer work is something you should enjoy and be proud of - not something that you should regret.
Last Modified: 08-15-2013 11:00 AM PDTLaw Library Disclaimer
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