The Volunteer Protection Act of 1997
On Sept. 17, 1997, the federal Volunteer Protection Act of 1997 became effective. It protects "volunteers," defined as individuals performing services for a nonprofit organization or governmental entity without compensation (other than reasonable expense allowances or reimbursements), or any other thing of value in lieu of compensation, in excess of $500 per year. The term "volunteer" includes a director, officer, trustee or other direct service volunteer. The federal act provides liability protection for harm a volunteer may cause, so long as certain conditions apply. These limitations restrict immunity to:
1. volunteers acting within the scope of their volunteer responsibilities;
2. volunteers properly licensed, certified or authorized for the activity that caused harm (if required or appropriate);
3. harms not caused by willful or criminal misconduct, gross negligence or conscious, flagrant indifference to the rights or safety of the person harmed; and
4. harms not caused by the volunteer while operating a motor vehicle, vessel, aircraft or other vehicle for which the state requires a license and/or financial security.
Also, the federal act excludes crimes of violence, acts of international terrorism, hate crimes, sexual offenses, civil rights violations or actions where the volunteer was under the influence of alcohol or drugs. [Section 52-557(m)]
Connecticut also provides volunteer immunity under state law. In many cases, the federal act provides more protection to volunteers than Connecticut's law. However, the federal act does not pre-empt a state law that provides greater protection for volunteers, and in a few respects Connecticut law may provide superior protection.