May 2017 - Protections for Your Volunteer Services

Volunteers “Volunteering is the ultimate experience in democracy.” – Author Unknown.

This unknown author went on to explain, “… because when you volunteer, you vote every day about the kind of community you want to live in.”

In giving of your time and talents, you help make your world a better place. Volunteering provides opportunities for new experiences and allows you to learn new skills or hone existing ones, contribute to your community, and put your experience and skills to productive use.

There are about 1.4 million volunteers in New Jersey, according to the Governor’s Office on Volunteerism. Those interested can be matched to the volunteer opportunity most suitable to their interests and skills by visiting

www.state.nj.us/state/programs/dos_program_volunteerism_form.html.

While gratifying, volunteerism is not without risk. Your actions, or inactions, in the course of your volunteer work could result in damages or injuries and, if a court determines that you were negligent, you could be liable for damages. Fortunately, there is some protection at both the federal and state levels including, but not limited to:

The Volunteer Protection Act of 1997 (VPA) – This federal law protects uncompensated volunteers working with nonprofit or governmental organizations, provided they were acting within the scope of their responsibilities. This Act does not cover the operation of any motorized vehicles, nor any reckless, willful or criminal actions.

General State Volunteer Protection Statutes – The VPA preempts any state law that offers lesser protections. In New Jersey, however, the protection statutes that were in effect prior to the passage of the VPA exceed those protections offered under the federal act.

Good Samaritan Laws – All states have a version of a Good Samaritan Law which, generally speaking, protects volunteers who act spontaneously to offer aid in an emergency situation. The laws offer limited immunity from civil liability but do not provide payment for judgements, settlements or court costs. These laws generally don’t apply to on-duty emergency services personnel or people with a pre-existing duty to offer care.

Volunteerism is good for the soul; just make sure your actions fall within the boundaries of your scope of responsibility for optimum protection.

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