Volunteers are the backbone of many organizations, especially nonprofits. Without their tireless work, many organizations would be unable to provide valuable services.
Nonprofits are involved with many activities that may expose the organization, the officers and the volunteers to potential liability. We might not have as many volunteers if they faced liability for their acts. Fortunately, federal and state governments have laws in place to help.
Protections for You
In 1997, Congress passed the Volunteer Protection Act (VPA) to provide protection from lawsuits that might be filed against individual volunteers for nonprofit organizations for activities they do on behalf of the organization.
Ohio has a similar law that also protects volunteers so they can be confident that their good work doesn’t expose them to legal liability.
The federal and state volunteer protection laws provide that an unpaid volunteer of a nonprofit organization or a government entity acting within the scope of their responsibility are not liable for ordinary, accidental negligence.
The law doesn’t cover willful or criminal misconduct, gross or reckless negligence, or a conscious or flagrant indifference to the rights or safety of the individual harmed. It doesn’t cover injuries caused by operating a motor vehicle. It also does not cover volunteers for businesses or the organization using the volunteer.
However, if you volunteer for AARP or for a political campaign, as long as you use common sense and perform lawful acts within the scope of your work, you can’t be sued for your actions.
What about the organizations? How are they protected? Under the VPA, organizations can be sued for wrongful acts of their volunteers. Luckily, most larger nonprofits have insurance to cover this, and the insurance will pay. Unfortunately, some smaller nonprofits or organizations might not be able to afford insurance. One horrible mistake could put them out of business....