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Maine Supreme Court Case Raises Question of How to Take Care of Volunteers

by Guest Blogger
Reprinted with permission from The Maine Nonprofit Law E-Bulletin May 2018, by Robert H. Levin, Attorney-at-Law with the Law Office of Robert H. Levin.

In December, the Maine Supreme Court held in Huff v. Regional Transportation Program that an individual who received mileage reimbursement but no other compensation was not an “employee” for the purposes of Maine’s worker compensation law. The plaintiff had been seriously injured in an accident incurred while driving for the nonprofit Regional Transportation Program. I wrote about the facts and the implications of this case in my June 2017 E-Bulletin, where I generally advocated for the dismissal of the plaintiffs action. Thus, as a general matter I am pleased with the court’s decision.

At the same time, this case raises interesting questions about how to make sure that nonprofit volunteers have some level of protection in case they suffer an injury. Keep in mind that the court’s decision in Huff means that the plaintiff, who most likely is struggling financially, will not be able to access funds to pay for health care costs.  A commercial general liability policy, the most common kind of insurance for nonprofit organizations, typically provides very modest “Medical Payments” coverage of $5,000 to $20,000 for injuries incurred by volunteers. But the occasional CGL policy adds an endorsement that eliminates this coverage, so organizations will have to check their policy to know for sure.

Nonprofits that want to provide coverage beyond the CGL Medical Payments should inquire with their insurance agents about Volunteer Accident policies.  The policies pay for medical care on a reimbursement basis and can supplement the volunteer’s personal health insurance.  Coverage is usually affordable (a few hundred dollars per year) unless your organization has a large volunteer staff or engages in especially risky activities (e.g. sports related programming).  In addition to paying for medical expenses, the policies usually cover death and dismemberment and a limited income replacement.

One thought on “Maine Supreme Court Case Raises Question of How to Take Care of Volunteers

MCCS says:

Spot on! We have LONG urged volunteer programs to provide this kind of protection to volunteers. The practice isn’t new — goes back to the 1970s when programs could purchases what was called then “Volunteer Event Coverage.” It may not be a car accident but a concussion from a slip on a wet floor or some other event. Risk (financial, reputation, relationship) needs to be managed, not avoided and this insurance is a basic step. Keep up the good work – Sincerely, Maine Commission for Community Service.

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