In this post, we answer one of the most common Google questions regarding volunteer engagement.
Can a volunteer sue a nonprofit?
The real question is, can a volunteer sue successfully? Yes. If a volunteer is injured while on assignment, he or she can sue the organization, alleging that the organization’s negligence was the proximate cause of the injury. Working definition of “negligence”: You did something you should have known not to do, or you failed to do something you should have known to do. If you did not adequately train the volunteer, choose assignments appropriately, or provide tools needed to work safely, that is how negligence might be established.
On the other hand, you can shield yourself against a charge of negligence by having:
- A consistent and appropriate system of volunteer screening (as needed, depending on the nature of their assignments)
- A robust orientation and training program
- Accountability – Requiring volunteers to follow your well-communicated procedures, and disciplining (even terminating) those who do not.
Accident insurance can help.
Many nonprofit organizations choose to provide accident medical insurance for their volunteers, through the VIS program. If an injured volunteer knows his or her injuries will be treated, with no out of pocket expense, it is much less likely that the volunteer will sue the organization. (NOTE: State laws vary in terms of whether volunteers may be, or must be, covered under workers compensation. Where state law does not require that volunteers be covered, the accident medical policy is a much less expensive alternative. More information about the VIS accident policy.)
What about liability waivers?
Many organizations have volunteers sign a waiver of liability before beginning their assignments. Do not rely on such a waiver, to protect the organization. They have been struck down in court many times, as favoring the organization over the legitimate interests of the volunteer. That does not mean you should not have them, because they do tend to focus the volunteer’s attention on the risks associated with his or her assignment.
Volunteers Insurance Service Association, Inc. (VIS) was established in 1972 for the purpose of providing insurance and risk management services for volunteer-based organizations. In addition to still providing these insurance services today on a nationwide scale, we have expanded to provide noninsurance resources for members to manage their risks and improve their operations. By transferring the volunteer risk exposure to our program, we can help you protect your organization. Contact us today at (800) 222-8920 for more information on our programs and services. Join now!