What is the Federal Volunteer Protection Act

The Federal Volunteer Protection Act (VPA), enacted in 1997, prevents individuals, nonprofit organizations and government entities engaged in volunteer service from being held liable for harm caused by acts or omissions if the volunteer acted within their scope of responsibilities, was properly qualified and did not intend to cause harm.

Breaking Down Federal Volunteer Protection Act

The Volunteer Protection Act was passed to encourage volunteerism, recognizing that liability risk reduced the number of people willing to participate in volunteer service. The act states that volunteers would pay punitive damages only if they willfully caused harm. Volunteer organizations can gain additional protection by purchasing general liability insurance. It does not require an emergency declaration to be in place for protection to apply. VPA applies to an uncompensated volunteer for acts of ordinary negligence committed in the scope of their responsibilities. If the volunteer's responsibilities are covered by a license, then the volunteer must be properly licensed, certified, or authorized by the appropriate authorities as mandated by law in the state where the harm occurred.

Volunteers of commercial businesses and the organizations that use these volunteers including nonprofit or governmental organizations are not protected by VPA. For example, a health professional who volunteers at a for-profit private hospital or receives compensation for volunteering at a nonprofit hospital is not protected. Other laws may provide immunity, however. VPA applies to: uncompensated volunteers; volunteers licensed, certified, or authorized by state law; volunteers of nonprofit organizations or government entities; acts in a volunteer’s scope of responsibility; or acts of ordinary negligence. VPA does not apply to: willful or criminal misconduct, gross negligence, reckless misconduct, or indifference to the rights or safety of anyone harmed by the volunteer; harm caused by operating a licensed motor vehicle, vessel, aircraft, or other vehicle; volunteers for businesses and the organization or entity for which they volunteer.

VPA and Other Protection Legislation

There are other volunteer protection acts at the federal and state levels. These laws limit the civil liability for some organizations' and entities' volunteers under specific circumstances. These protections are not limited to emergency response volunteers, and do apply to all volunteers who meet the legal requirements. All states have some statutory protections for volunteers. The federal VPA preempts state laws that are less protective, but allows states to pass laws with greater protections. Like VPA, these statutes generally do not require an emergency declaration. They also apply to uncompensated individual volunteers for nonprofit and governmental entities only, and apply to individuals, not organizations.