Date: July 2020
Many public entities have come to rely on the generosity of volunteers to help provide services to constituents. Although the volunteer may be working side-by-side with a member’s staff, working on the member’s premises or working independently with the entity’s knowledge, the relationship is different from the typical employer-employee relationship.
This difference makes it important for members to consider the exposures that accompany the use of volunteers, how MCIT coverage may apply and how best to manage the risks unique to volunteers.
MCIT includes volunteers in the definition of “covered party.” Therefore, MCIT responds to liability claims on behalf of the member and its authorized volunteers, subject to the terms, conditions, limitations and exclusions of the MCIT Coverage Document.
This coverage applies only to claims occurring from acts within the scope of the volunteer’s duties on behalf of the member. The complete definition of “covered party” can be found in the Liability section of the MCIT Coverage Document, Section VI, Definitions.
Auto Liability and Physical Damage Coverage
A fundamental rule of auto liability coverage is that the insurance follows the vehicle. MCIT responds to claims caused by volunteers driving member-scheduled vehicles with the expressed permission of the member for work purposes. Both liability coverage and physical damage coverage would apply to any scheduled vehicle if involved in an accident when a volunteer is driving.
The volunteer’s personal auto insurance must respond to claims that occur while he or she is driving his or her own vehicle even when it is to perform work for the member. For claims that exceed the volunteer’s own liability limits, , the member’s hired and nonowned auto liability coverage provides protection consistent with limits as provided in Minnesota Statutes, Chapter 466. MCIT provides no physical damage coverage for a volunteer’s deductible.
Under the Minnesota Workers’ Compensation Act, a volunteer is an individual who receives no remuneration or compensation in exchange for services rendered. This compensation does need not to be monetary and must be specifically for services rendered as a benefit.
For example, providing a meal to volunteers cleaning up a park may not make them employees, but giving them a gift card at the end of the cleanup may make them employees eligible for workers’ compensation benefits.
The Workers’ Compensation Act has also extended coverage to certain volunteers for public entities. These volunteers include certain law enforcement, public safety, first responders and health volunteers. MCIT has a separate Resource discussing covered volunteers.
Personal injuries that occur while volunteering may be eligible for coverage under the member’s medical payments coverage or liability coverage, depending on the situation and the cause of the injury.
Personal property belonging to a volunteer may be eligible for MCIT property coverage, depending on the property in question. Contents coverage is available for property being used for the benefit of the member up to a maximum of $5,000 per loss occurrence if the property is not scheduled.
For example, coverage can extend to loss or damage to a volunteer’s laptop computer if the member has approved its use as necessary to the volunteer’s duties, and it has a work-related purpose. Any resulting claim would be valued on a cost replacement basis, subject to the member’s property deductible. Items owned by volunteers that are used for the benefit of the member with a higher value can be added to the member’s property schedule.
Coverage may also be available under MCIT’s electronic data processing coverage if the volunteer’s electronic personal property is used at locations other than a member’s scheduled buildings. Members should discuss coverage options with their risk management consultant.
Risk Management Advice
Understanding how coverage applies when a claim occurs is only part of operating a successful volunteer program. It is also important to take steps to mitigate losses or prevent them from occurring. MCIT recommends that members develop policies and procedures that address volunteer issues. Consider the following risk management advice:
- Maintain a file for each volunteer that includes essential information, including name, address, telephone numbers, emergency contacts, etc.
- Consider a waiver for each volunteer activity outlining the risks and requesting that volunteers acknowledge those risks and agree to be responsible for their own injuries and damages that occur while volunteering
- Develop driver qualifications and apply them consistently
- Obtain a copy of each volunteer’s driver’s license if driving is part of his or her duties
- Obtain proof of auto insurance if volunteers are using their own vehicles for the member’s purposes. Advise volunteers that they are responsible for physical damage and liability losses resulting from the use of their personal vehicles.
- Conduct reference checks on volunteers.
- Check all vehicles for safety.
- Invite volunteers to training, such as safety meetings, defensive driving courses, first aid/CPR sessions.
- Conduct accident investigations when a volunteer is involved.
- Advise volunteers that they are responsible for their personal property if it is not used for the benefit of the member. Schedule volunteers’ property with a value in excess of $1,500 when appropriate.
- Do not make payments to volunteers that could cause them to be viewed as an employee by the workers’ compensation courts system. An injured volunteer could claim that he or she is an employee because the individual received compensation in the form of stipends, bonuses or maybe a turkey on Thanksgiving. The courts may agree and require the member to pay benefits for the volunteer’s injuries.
If members have questions concerning volunteers, they are encouraged to contact their MCIT risk management consultant toll-free at 1.866.547.6516.
MCIT coverage is always subject to the terms, conditions, limitations and exclusions of the MCIT Coverage Document.