Liability Protection for Volunteers and Charitable Organizations: An Overview
Good Samaritan Laws. Volunteer Protection. Volunteer Immunity. Liability Limitation. Shield Laws. Charitable Immunity.
These terms, which have significant, as well as subtle distinctions, have been used to describe laws that protect people and organizations in the nonprofit sector from claims, lawsuits and allegations of wrongdoing. Although numerous researchers, legal authorities and other interested persons have written about these subjects during the past 20 years, a tremendous degree of confusion remains about whether volunteers and nonprofits can be sued and held liable for negligent acts. More specifically, managers and leaders of nonprofit organizations continue to wonder:
-Can we be sued?
-Can we be held liable?
-Are there laws that limit our liability because we are nonprofits or volunteers?
Each year the Nonprofit Risk Management Center receives countless calls from nonprofit managers describing actual or hypothetical situations in which the nonprofit is or could be embroiled. A typical caller inquires “Could we be sued?” or “If we were sued, would we be liable?” To respond, we explain that, with rare exception, a nonprofit can be sued by anyone...at anytime...for anything.
We continue by explaining that determining whether a nonprofit will be liable for harm resulting from its acts or omissions depends on the confluence of various factors, including whether:
-the nonprofit had a duty of care with respect to those who were harmed,
-the nonprofit breached its duty of care
-harm actually occurred
-the harm that occurred was foreseeable
- the breach of the duty of care was a proximate cause of the harm that occurred, and there were reasonable measures available to the nonprofit that would have prevented the harm from occurring.
We then advise that all of these considerations will be factored with the laws of a particular jurisdiction and the perspective and biases of the judge or jury who will consider the facts in a particular case. In so many instances, it is difficult, if not impossible, to predict whether liability will be imposed. Legal counsel representing the nonprofit, with full knowledge of all of the circumstances and facts at hand will try to make this prediction and advise the nonprofit accordingly.
Source: Nonprofit Risk Management Center – (202) 785-3891 – www.nonprofitrisk.org
Download the entire report at: http://sfcard.org/GoodSamaritanLaws.pdf