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GroupNet Solutions > Volunteer Protection Act of 1997–What’s It Mean To You?

In the 90’s due to substantially higher insurance premiums, some nonprofit organizations cut back on services. Other agencies eliminated insurance coverage – increasing the chance that an injured party would sue volunteers in search of a “deep pocket.” As publicity about the lawsuits and insurance crunch spread, it raised volunteers’ apprehension and reduced their willingness to serve. Several surveys conducted during this period reported that many organizations suffered board resignations, a decline in youth sport registration due to volunteer recruitment difficulties.

In 1997, President Clinton signed into law the Volunteer Protection Act (VPA) of 1997 that, generally speaking, provides immunity from tort claims that might be filed against the volunteers of nonprofit organizations.

Simply stated, Public Law 105-19 provides immunity for volunteers serving nonprofit organizations or governmental entities for harm caused by their acts or omissions if:

  • The volunteer was acting within the scope of his or her responsibilities.
  • If appropriate or required, the volunteer was properly licensed, certified or authorized to act.
  • The harm was not caused by willful, criminal or reckless misconduct or gross negligence.
  • The harm was not caused by the volunteer operating a motor vehicle, vessel, or aircraft.

Nevertheless, despite the VPA, many volunteers remain fully liable for any harm they cause, and all volunteers remain liable for some actions. The Act only applies to 501(c)(3) organizations and governmental entities. In addition, the VPA does not prevent a nonprofit from bringing an action against a volunteer. Other exceptions to the liability limitation include misconduct that is a crime of violence, hate crime, sexual offense, violation of federal or state civil rights law, and acts committed under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

This act does not mean volunteers are immune from lawsuits, knowing what the VPA does and doesn’t protect volunteers from is very important.  Should you have questions or want to learn more about this law, consult your legal council and insurance provider that protect your organization.

Many associations are also implementing their own measures to further reduce their liability such as mandatory background screening, volunteer training and many are using automated systems to help manage and administer these programs as offered by

To learn more about the Act, the entire VPA can be found below: