In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, we have received many questions from our members in regards to the liability professional engineers in New York State when volunteering. The Volunteer Protection Act of 1997, signed into law on June 18th, 1997, was created to “provide certain protections to volunteers, non-profit organizations and governmental entities in lawsuits based on the activities of volunteers.”
The Act provides liability protection for volunteers under the following conditions:
- The volunteer was acting within the scope of the volunteer’s responsibilities in the non-profit organization or governmental entity at the time of the act or omission;
- If appropriate or required, the volunteer was properly licensed, certified or authorized by the appropriate authorities for the activities or practice in the State in which the harm occurred, where the activities were or practice was undertaken within the scope of harm occurred, where the activities were or practice was undertaken within the scope of the volunteer’s responsibilities in the non-profit organization or governmental entity;
- The harm was not caused by willful or criminal misconduct, gross negligence, reckless misconduct, or a conscious, flagrant indifference to the rights or safety of the individual harmed by the volunteer;
The Act does not affect that “liability of any non-profit or governmental entity with respect to harm caused to any person,” nor does it affect a governmental entity or non-profit’s taking civil action against any volunteer of the non-profit. For more information, see US Public Law No: 105-19
We know that our many of our members want to volunteer, but when doing so, please remember that volunteering is not without risk. It is advisable to secure confirmation from the governmental entity or non-profit that the engagement is on a no-fee basis and secure a definitive scope of the work. PEs should not volunteer beyond the scope of the assignment. If a determination of structural safety is the issue a PE should not give an opinion on the status of equipment in a building. It is also advisable to get an opinion from counsel and review any applicable professional liability policy.
Attention: None of the information contained herein should be construed as legal advice or the practice of law. If you need legal advice, please seek the advice of independent legal counsel.
(Portion of summary provided by Campus Compact)
Scott Firestone says
New York law supercedes the Federal VPA. In New York there is no liability protection for volunteers working for charitable organization without financial compensation. There are about 13 states
That have similar laws.