BARNABY’S BLOG: Your Insurance Might Cover Your Volunteers


Volunteers are the lifeblood of hundreds of organizations, from churches to political campaigns to youth sports leagues. These organizations could not accomplish their missions without them. Just like paid employees, however, volunteers can have accidents that injure themselves or others or that damage property. A woman making deliveries for Meals On Wheels can have a car accident. A Little League coach can be injured by a batted baseball. A man helping to build a house for Habitat For Humanity may discard what he thinks is an extinguished cigarette and start a fire that destroys half of the house next door. Because each of these individuals were volunteering for charitable organizations at the times of the accidents, the question arises as to whether the organizations are responsible and whether their insurance will protect them.

Some state workers’ compensation laws cover certain types of volunteers. For example, some states cover volunteer firefighters but not other types of volunteers. Insurance companies have available a policy change that voluntarily covers workers who are not automatically covered by a state workers’ wompensation law, but the endorsement is unclear as to whether it covers injuries to volunteers. Its coverage may vary from state to state, so an organization’s leadership should determine how the law applies in its particular state. For organizations in states where coverage for volunteers is unavailable, some specialty insurance companies offer accident policies. Such a policy might pay for the medical expenses of the Little League baseball coach injured by the batted ball.

Commercial general liability insurance typically cover both the organization and the individual volunteers for bodily injury, property damage, and personal and advertising injury they cause to others. The man who starts a fire while volunteering for Habitat For Humanity will have coverage for the damage done to the other house. The insurance applies only while the volunteers are performing duties related to the organization’s business. Also, the person must meet the policy’s definition of “volunteer worker” as a person who is not an employee, who donates her work, acts at the organization’s direction and within the scope of duties the organization determines, and who receives no compensation from anyone for her work for the organization. The policy provides a small amount of insurance (typically $5,000) for injuries volunteers suffer. A volunteer who sprains her ankle while working at a library’s fund-raising book sale will have coverage for her medical treatment.

An organization’s auto policy will cover a volunteer if he is using a vehicle he does not own for organization business with the organization’s permission. The vehicle must be one that the policy covers. However, while the policy will cover the organization for accidents the volunteer has while using his own vehicle for organization business, it will not cover the volunteer himself. He would have to seek coverage under his personal auto and umbrella policies, if he has them. For example, the woman making deliveries for Meals On Wheels using her car has coverage under her own insurance, not the organization’s. The organization’s policy would cover her if she was driving a car the organization provided. Also, the business auto policy does not provide automatic coverage for injuries to volunteers like the liability policy does. The insurance company can add this coverage, known as “medical payments,” to the policy for an additional premium.

Organizations interested in providing additional protection for their volunteers should work with a professional insurance agent to identify the options and insurance companies willing to provide them. Volunteers are essential to organizations, so it is worthwhile to make certain that appropriate coverage for them is in place.

Barnaby Joyce has lived in North Rockland since childhood. He is the principal of Joyce Insurance Agency in Stony Point


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