The federal Volunteer Protection Act (VPA), or simply the Act, aims to promote volunteerism by limiting a volunteer’s risk of tort liability when acting for nonprofit organizations or government entities. People who volunteer run the risk that their actions, while well-intentioned, may cause harm to another. If those actions are deemed negligent, the volunteer may face civil liability for damages. These potential damages arising from such an incident can obviously be large, and the risks of such liabilities may inhibit volunteerism. Thus, the Act was created to address such concerns.
The Act generally eliminates the liability of an individual volunteer for damage caused by his or her simple or ordinary negligence, so long as the individual was acting within the scope of their responsibility with proper licensure or certification if required, and was not grossly negligent or intentionally trying to cause harm. The Act provides protection to the individual volunteer only and does not limit or affect the liability of the nonprofit organization or government entity itself. The Act’s protection for volunteers does not extend to damage caused by acts involving motor vehicles, crimes of violence, hate crimes, sexual offenses, violations of Civil Rights, or misconduct involving intoxication or drugs. In some states the nonprofit must provide a “financially secure source of recovery” for potential victims who are harmed by the nonprofit’s volunteers. In such a state, only an adequately insured nonprofit would be able to offer the Act’s immunities to its volunteers.