Church Director Liability Under the Federal Volunteers Protection Act

By March 24, 2020 Church
Church Director Liability Under the Federal Volunteers Protection Act

Passed in 1997, the Federal Volunteers Protection Act (VPA) was crafted with the purpose of limiting the amount of legal and financial liability that volunteers to nonprofit organizations—including unpaid Directors—might have otherwise been subject to for harms caused in the course of their service. In drafting the Act, Congress made explicit its goal to “promote the interests” of churches and nonprofits by providing“certain protections from liability abuses related to volunteers serving nonprofit organizations and governmental entities” (42 U.S.C. § 14501). The passage of the Act was in response to a decrease in volunteerism in society at large, which Congress attributed in part to a belief that church and ministry volunteers were facing financial harm because they were judged to have caused some sort of harm to others in the course of their volunteer efforts.

The VPA supercedes any state laws that provide a lower standard of protection to volunteers—but states may provide a stronger level of protection to their volunteer citizens.

According to the VPA, a volunteer is someone:  

performing services for a nonprofit organization or a governmental entity who does not receive—
(A)compensation (other than reasonable reimbursement or allowance for expenses actually incurred); or
(B) any other thing of value in lieu of compensation,in excess of $500 per year, and such term includes a volunteer serving as a director, officer, trustee, or direct service volunteer. (42 U.S.C. § 14505 (6))

The Act provides immunity from personal liability although there are some exceptions to the immunity Namely, in order to qualify for immunity, the Director must have been acting “within the scope of his or her responsibilities at the time of the alleged acts or omissions;” must have been “properly licensed, certified, or authorized to act” in cases where such qualification was “appropriate or required”; the harm caused must not have happened as a result of “willful, criminal, or reckless misconduct, gross negligence, or a conscious, flagrant indifference to the rights or safety of the individual harmed”; and the harm caused must not have been “caused by the volunteer operating a motor vehicle, vessel, or aircraft where the State requires an operator’s license and insurance” (42 U.S.C § 14503).

When a church, ministry, or other nonprofit organization in Arizona needs advice about the liability of its Directors, Board Members, or other volunteers, Provident Law’s church and nonprofit attorneys are here to help. We recognize how essential these organizations are to society, and we provide broad transactional and general counsel services to keep them running smoothly. Contact us to learn more.