Personal Injury Lawsuits: Can a Volunteer Sue a Nonprofit?

Most nonprofit organizations utilize volunteers to help with everything from administrative work to organizing fundraisers and serving on the board of directors. But what happens if a volunteer becomes ill or is injured while performing duties within the scope of work assigned by the organization? Can a volunteer hold a nonprofit legally responsible for a personal injury?

Personal Injury & Negligence Lawsuits
A volunteer who suffers a personal injury due to the actions of a nonprofit may have grounds to sue an organization. In addition, if the injury was found to be caused by a negligent act of a nonprofit, a volunteer may also sue for negligence.

According to the legal website Nolo, while personal injury or tort lawsuits are the least likely type of volunteer-related liability claims a nonprofit may face, when they occur, they can cause significant financial damage to an organization.

In addition to personal injuries, tort claims can also involve lawsuits related to:

  • Property damage
  • Emotional distress
  • Damage to a volunteer’s reputation

“In general, whoever (or whatever organization) causes an injury [may be held] financially liable for the damages suffered by the victim, even if the wrongdoer didn’t mean any harm; both intentional injuries and those caused by carelessness can result in liability.”

Protection for the Volunteers – Not the Nonprofit
The legal website Provident Law notes that while a volunteer may bring a liability suit against a nonprofit, there are also situations where an organization could be held liable for the actions of its volunteers.

Barring any exceptions, an organization is typically responsible for damages caused by its volunteers — particularly when performing work under the direction of a manager/supervisor and on behalf of the nonprofit. However, protection for volunteers exists by way of the Volunteer Protection Act of 1997, which grants individuals who perform volunteer work for a nonprofit or governmental entity immunity from civil liability claims (claims where a private party sues for damages, injunctions or injuries).

“For the nonprofit, the immunity of a volunteer can, in some ways, increase the risk for the organization itself. That is why it is so important for nonprofits to carry adequate levels of insurance that will cover the anticipated activities of its volunteers.”
Provident Law.

Mitigating Risks
Professional liability and directors & officers liability insurance can help protect your nonprofit clients against liabilities resulting from claims brought against the organization by its volunteers and staff, as well as its directors and officers — many of whom are likely working in a volunteer capacity.

It’s important to note that nonprofit organizations have a special legal status and may have different rules and procedures that apply only to them. Should your nonprofit clients find themselves facing legal issues, they should always seek the advice of an experienced lawyer.

About Charity First
When it comes to working with nonprofits, we understand that your clients are often asked to do more with less. It’s why we’ve always made it our goal to provide your clients with more insurance options and protection at an affordable cost. Since 1985, Charity First has helped retail brokers find the right insurance coverage for their nonprofit clients so organizations can maintain stability now and into the future.

To learn more, please contact us at 800-352-2761 or email