Protecting Your Volunteers from Liability

Posted by Terry Mosteller | Sep 27, 2021 | 0 Comments

Volunteering is an excellent way for you to serve others in need. Recent research shows that approximately one out of four Americans volunteer. Volunteers love giving their time and energy to a worthy cause. Many times, it is an opportunity for them to make their community a better place to live. From a nonprofit perspective, this is great because volunteers are what may help your nonprofit run its services and get you one step closer to achieving your mission. But with volunteers may come liability, and it's important as an organization to consider how this impacts your day-to-day. 

It is not uncommon for the question of liability to surface whether it's from your board or from volunteers themselves. Thankfully, many states now limit nonprofit volunteer liability via volunteer protection statutes. It is important to note that although these statutes may vary from state to state, they all do indeed provide a basic degree of protection from civil liability for volunteers, as long as they: 

  • Do so in good faith
  • The injury was not caused by nonprofit volunteers willful or careless conduct   

Additionally, there is a federal law known as the Volunteer Protection Act of 1997 that helps to protect volunteers of nonprofits and government organizations from liability. Under the federal statute, volunteers will not be held liable for any harm they cause as long as: 

  • They were not acting outside the scope of their volunteer duties
  • They were properly licensed, if relevant 
  • The harm was not a result of the volunteers' willfulness, negligence, or reckless conduct; and
  • The harm was not caused by the volunteer's operation of a vehicle that would require a license or insurance. 


State Volunteer Liability Law in Missouri: “Any volunteer of a nonprofit organization or governmental entity shall be immune from personal liability for any act or omission resulting in damage or injury to any person intended to receive benefit from such volunteer's service if: (1) the volunteer acted in good faith and within the scope of his official functions and duties with the organization or entity; and (2) the damage or injury was not caused by the intentional or malicious conduct or by the negligence of such volunteer. Mo. Ann. Stat. § 537.118 (West)”

So, there is such a thing as volunteer insurance coverage? 

Yes, and it is typically the responsibility of the board of directors to evaluate if the organization has enough insurance coverage for volunteer activities and to inform their volunteers whether or not they may have to get personal insurance coverage for their own activities. Either way, it is wise to seek legal counsel in this scenario if you or your organization are confused about coverage options. 

More about insurance coverage, please!

The nonprofit organization's insurance policies should cover its own liability for its volunteers' actions as well as cover the volunteers directly. If you're having a fundraising event, special insurance policies may be required when insuring volunteers for these types of events. 

Examples of insurance coverage: 

General liability insurance: Nonprofits use general liability insurance to protect themselves from bodily injury claims or property damage. This type of insurance covers liability claims that come up during normal operations. It can help cover medical expenses, administrative costs for claims, and any other legal costs or fees regarding a case or settlement. 

Auto insurance: Nonprofits who use automobiles to accomplish their tasks will have auto insurance covering employees and volunteers alike. If you are injured while driving a vehicle and are under the organization's insurance policy, it will protect you from liability.

Although there are statutes and laws that help protect volunteers, it is important for any board of directors to familiarize themselves with their available state and federal volunteer protection by consulting with legal counsel knowledgable in nonprofit law. If you want more specific information for Kansas or Missouri, please contact Mission Counsel, we offer FREE consultations!

About the Author

Terry Mosteller

Hi, I'm Terry Mosteller. I'm the founding attorney at Mission Counsel, where I help nonprofits and small and medium-sized businesses overcome obstacles so that they can focus on what they do best–accomplishing their mission. My goal is to get to know not just the legal challenges...


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