How to Understand Family Law ?
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For anyone that is going through a divorce, then you need to try and make sure that you find someone to represent your interests. This is because in divorce cases there can be a lot of tricky legal issues to navigate around.
A family or divorce lawyer is going to give you a lot if you decide to hire them. Here are some things that a family or divorce lawyer can do for you.
As a means of protecting volunteers from getting sued due to their activities, many states have implemented charitable immunity laws. These laws, on occasion, do offer valuable protection for ministry volunteer workers; however, the scope of these protections is not as broad as you may think.
What Is the Charitable Immunity Doctrine?
Charitable immunity is the legal doctrine that posits that a charitable organization should not be held under the law of tort.
A tort is an impermissible act taken by one individual against the other that ends up injuring the latter. Legally, tort is defined as a civil or private injury or wrong which results from the breaching of a legal duty. The legal duty normally stems from the expectation of society in matters regarding personal conduct. Thus, systems of tort law have been incorporated into what is termed as “common law.” Common law is a set of laws that have been developed over the years by courts as they judge cases that are presented to them. For this reason, common law varies regionally.
In years past, a lot of courts gave charitable immunity to certain philanthropic and religious institutions. Today, very little of that immunity is left – with religious institutions no longer being immune to the law of tort in the modern world.
Why Charitable Immunity Laws Offer Only Limited Protection Today
- The Charitable Immunity clause does not apply to a ministry organization. Charitable immunity laws are only applicable to an individual but not the entire institution. As such, even if a religious minister is able to avoid legal consequences, the church may still be sued.
- The laws significantly differ from state to state. There are some states that offer significant protection to their volunteer and ministry workers. However, most states provide little to no charitable immunity protection.
- It only protects those on the board of a charitable organization. Charitable immunity laws are meant to protect actual volunteers from being sued, however, some state laws narrow this down to only board members of a charitable institution. Thus, a volunteer or ministry worker can still face a lawsuit if their work causes injury to someone.
- These laws typically prevent only specific individuals from suing. Charitable immunity laws, in most states, are fairly precise about who cannot sue volunteers or ministry staff. Thus, persons deemed as beneficiaries of the organization’s work cannot file a lawsuit; but anyone who doesn’t benefit from the institution’s efforts can still sue. For instance, if an individual gets injured while receiving free goods from a charitable organization, they may be prevented from suing the volunteer workers handling the process. Conversely, persons that got injured during the event and were not partaking any of the institution’s goods have the right to sue.
- The laws only apply to certain torts. If the charity worker engages in intentional criminal acts, the charitable immunity laws will not protect them. Also, they won’t be applicable in acts of gross negligence or willful misconduct. Charitable immunity laws will only apply to situations where the volunteer worker unwillingly caused harm or injury.
- The charitable immunity laws are not applicable to all kinds of court awards. Often, these laws will protect the church or charitable foundation from compensatory damage awards; however, they will not protect the ministry from a non-compensatory penalty or fine that the court may impose.
- Legal defense expenses are still incurred. Even though charitable immunity law may exempt a ministry or charity worker from legal liability, it is still up to the volunteer to seek removal from the lawsuit. For the charity worker to achieve this they will need an attorney to guide them through the process, and this costs money.
The Decline of Charitable Immunity
Charitable immunity originally started in England in 1846 and was taken up in the U.S in 1876. The theory posited was that the money held by the charities was for distribution to others. Thus, if a tort plaintiff claimed damages against the church or charity, it would jeopardize the operations of the organization.
Religious and charitable organizations enjoyed immunity from tort liability in most courts in the United States until 1942 when District of Columbia abolished the law.
Consequently, several states now follow that ruling or have minimized its effectiveness. Changes in society are what contributed to the change in charitable immunity laws. The mid-20th Century saw the rise of charity to “big business.” Thus, the piece of mind that the charitable immunity laws gave to workers and volunteers could no longer be sustained.
Nonetheless, some states still observe a certain level of charitable immunity. Those jurisdictions that still acknowledge a degree of charitable immunity often preserve the immunity for religious organizations. However, charitable hospitals no longer enjoy that privilege.
The Federal Volunteer Protection Act
Enacted in 1997, the Volunteer Protection Act was intended to offer charity workers in all states some protection from litigation. While the volunteer protection act is quite helpful, it still contains many of the limitations in the present charitable immunity laws. And surprisingly, the act dilutes the potency of the charitable laws even further. There is nothing in the volunteer act that will prevent the charitable institution from filing a suit against a volunteer whose actions had negative monetary repercussions for the organization.
Because of the remnants of charitable immunity laws in some jurisdictions, any tort claim against the ministry or charity foundation needs to be examined to see whether there is a charitable immunity clause within that state.
Additionally, the extent to which the charitable immunity law can protect your religious ministry or charitable organization tends to vary from state to state. Thus, it is imperative you also consider the Volunteer Protection Act when you are assessing protection options for your volunteers. If you are uncertain of volunteer protection laws in your jurisdiction, consult a local attorney to guide you through the applicable charitable immunity laws.
The purpose of volunteer protections acts and laws similar to them in scope is to provide those individuals who serve as volunteers for different organizations a certain amount of protection in certain circumstances. Since volunteers are not paid professionals, these types of laws ensure that their civil rights are protected in the case that their actions might prove unfavorable.
The Federal Volunteer Protection Act was put into practice in June 1997 by former President Bill Clinton. The Act was passed as a means to promote volunteerism throughout the country; after all, people should be more willing to volunteer if they have some guarantee that their rights will be protected.
The letter of the Volunteer Protection Act states: “no volunteer of a nonprofit organization or governmental entity shall be liable for the harm caused by an act or omission of the volunteer on behalf of the organization or entity if–
(1) the volunteer was acting within the scope of the volunteer’s responsibilities in the nonprofit organization or government entity…,
(2)…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…,
(3) 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, and
(4) the harm was not caused by the volunteer operating a motor vehicle, vessel, aircraft, or other vehicle for which the State requires the operator of the vehicle [to hold a proper license]…”
Each provision of the Act is set in place to protect the rights and liberties of a volunteer in the case of accidental harm. Following is a closer look at these four particular provisions.
In the structure of a nonprofit organization or government institution that enlists volunteers to complete certain jobs, these entities entrust the running of these jobs to their unpaid workers. That being said, they still expect the proper returns and work ethic to be applied to the job. For the most part, volunteers are willing to perform to a degree of these expectations, which is why they volunteered in the first place.
However, accidents and mistakes do happen, and in the case that a volunteer is the one who causes these and has possibly committed harm to someone or something, they cannot be held liable so long as they were doing their job. If a volunteer was working outside of his or her assigned capacity, the story changes.
This provision is straightforward enough, and states that if a volunteer was properly licensed by the State in which he or she is working when the accident or harm occurred, then they cannot be held liable. In medical, legal, and defense organizations that employ volunteers, certain licenses or credentials are often required to prove the volunteer is trained to do a certain job.
For example, if a volunteer doctor went and offered his services in an area that has been hit by recent disaster and performs a surgery on an individual, that doctor could be held liable if he or she does not have the proper licensing or certification. If he or she does, then there’s no issue. It’s as simple as that.
Again, accidents happen, and harm caused by an individual does not always mean that it was intentional. So long as there is no evidence that the volunteer in question was acting with criminal intent, recklessly, or negligently in their assigned position which directly led to harm – then the volunteer cannot be held liable.
In the legal world, provisions like this unfortunately have to exist so that individuals, businesses, and other organizations do not take advantage of a situation and erroneously “point the finger” at someone they have publicly labelled as a criminal. This provision exists to provide an extra layer of protection for volunteers on the basis of motive, or lack thereof.
Similar to Provision 2, this provision simply means that so long as the volunteer did not cause harm while operating a vehicle of some kind without a State-issued license, then the volunteer cannot be held liable. A provision like this is why it is so important for volunteers to take care when working for another entity, as there may be times when they are asked to do something that goes against their training, certification, or otherwise. To protect yourself as a volunteer, only do what you are licensed and hired to do.
Possible Weak Points of the Act
While the Volunteer Protection Act served to propel the success of nonprofit organizations across the country, it is not without its pitfalls. For example, this Act does not protect volunteers who may, in some way, infringe on federal laws even though by state standards they are protected (or vice versa). The fact of the matter is that the Volunteer Protection Act was meant as a safety net, not an outright guarantee of immunity.
This Act makes it more difficult for organizations to unjustly hold a volunteer liable, but a good lawyer can often find the perfect loophole that will make any protection benefits offered by the Volunteer Protection Act null and void. The conflict between State and Federal law is not a new one, and creates an even more complex environment through which to traverse if you are being held liable under any circumstance.
One other weakness of the Volunteer Protection Act is the fact that it does not protect volunteers from a suit or other forms of litigation that the organization they work for might demand. And in the case that the harm affected someone outside of the organization, the organization itself is not protected at all under this Act.
The Volunteer Protection Act was a good, strong step in the right direction in terms of offering some form of legal shield to volunteer workers. However, it is not a fool-proof law, and volunteers must still be careful when it comes to activities that could result in bodily harm or physical damage or in the violation of state or federal laws in any way. You have a safety net; but it is best not to poke any more holes in it.
Nonprofits and Illegal Downloads: Penalties and Legal Advice
Copyright Law is a serious federal law, and breaking it carries severe consequences. People who work in the entertainment, publishing, or other media industries are primarily concerned about these issues since they deal with media on a regular basis.
But what about nonprofit organizations? Is there ever a need for nonprofit organizations to worry about copyright law? Yes! Copyright law crosses all boundaries regarding industry, ideologies, and business situations, including nonprofits.
The Rules of Copyright
Copyright Law is one of those areas that, the more you learn, the more you realize you don’t know. This is because there are about as many unique situations that have to do with copyrights as there are exceptions and extenuating circumstances, but we have put the basic tenets of copyright law below.
- Copyright law is meant to protect the creator of an intellectual work.
- The law covers not only the possession but also the use of the work.
- A work is copyrighted the minute it is completed in a tangible form (includes digital formats).
- The fines for copyright law are severe ($250,000 per offense) plus civil penalties.
- The whole idea of copyright law is to give the author or creator freedom to decide what happens with their intellectual property.
- It guarantees that they can make money on their creation.
The above tenets of copyright law are fairly straightforward. But there are many caveats and exceptions with some of them. It all has to do with when the work was created, which copyright standard the material is under, and what you do with the job. But, in general, you should never download or use any intellectual property that you do not own the rights to unless you are planning to use it for your personal use only.
Most copyright holders do not have a problem with people using their material for personal use. This might include using a photo as a background on their home computers, sharing a video in an email, and such. However, if the work reaches “publishing” status, (where 2 or more people see it), you need to follow the laws of copyright to the letter.
Simple permission from the copyright holder may be all that is often required to be able to legally use images, videos, audio files, and any other type of copyrighted media or material. It’s best to send a letter through postal mail (the traditional way) to the person and ask them to sign it and return it to you. The statement will cover anything the author or creator is willing to let you share with others by their signature. They should sign and date it, then return it to you. Once you get this “contract” in your hands, you now have legal permission to use the material in the way agreed upon in the contract.
If you do not get written permission from the copyright holder, you have no legal right to use any copyrighted work. Even a nonprofit organization puts itself at legal risk doing so.
Common Myths of Copyright Law
There are many misunderstandings and misconceptions surrounding copyright law. Some of the most misunderstood concepts are listed below. The explanations for each one follow below this section.
- I bought the work, so I have the right to use it.
- If I am not making money, I cannot get in trouble.
- If the copyright symbol is not present, it is fair game.
- If I don’t use the entire work, it’s okay to use it.
- If I use it in a “derivative work,” it’s perfectly legal.
- If it’s online, it’s fair game to use.
- It’s fine, as long as I attribute the author or creator.
Unfortunately, all of these statements are wrong. Let’s go through them one at a time.
Myth #1: The first one is talking about ownership. If you downloaded a song from iTunes or Amazon, this only permits you to play it on your own devices. It does not give you permission to email, use, publish, or distribute it in any way.
Myth #2: Some people honestly believe that if they are not making money, they are not breaking any copyright laws. Wrong! The question to ask is not whether you are making money; it is whether the artist is making money! For example, if you are providing a clip of a song, picture, or video that has copyright restrictions, you are sharing something for free that the artist could sell! This means they are not making money. They can sue you for damages for every time you used the content without their permission, plus any royalties they might have made for the performance rights.
Myth #3: Just because the copyright symbol is absent does not mean it is not copyrighted. You need to look up the history of the content and find out who owns the copyright before using it.
Myth #4: If you don’t use the entire work, such as a portion of a song or video, you may be in less legal jeopardy under the “Fair Use” clause. However, you must be able to show that you did not show any more than 10% of a work and there are other criteria that you may be required to show to disprove copyright infringement. You must also show how your content was only used for educational purposes.
Myth #5: Derivative works are works that are taken from the original work and used to create a new work. There is a fine line on how much you can do this. It’s risky to do this because the original author may not approve such use. If in doubt, get a signature.
Myth #6: The idea that anything online is fair game is just plain wrong. Issuing “apologies” in case of infringement doesn’t cut it either.
Myth #7: Attribution is not enough to protect yourself from copyright violation. Attributing the author or creator is required whether you get permission or not. It does not make it legal to share or publish another person’s work.
So there you have it; those are some of the most misunderstood ideas regarding copyright law. These laws apply to everyone, whether you are a musician, company, individual, or nonprofit organization. Even public educators have to check to make sure the use of content does not break any copyright laws before they are allowed to present it in front of a group or class.
Do your research. Ask a lawyer if you believe that you have illegally downloaded material. If you have been challenged on this after you have already done it, see an attorney today to ask what you should do. If you can present your argument in such a way that illustrates your intentions were not to take away from the artist’s profits or that you misunderstood the law, you may not be held liable. But it’s not worth the risk.
If in doubt, check it out
Go to the copyright.gov to check the latest copyright legislation. The FCC has allowed some backing up of files to portable media and other things in recent years. But you must follow the law. Use caution when dealing with another person’s work. Bookmark sites like Shutterstock.com and others that allow you to purchase royalty-free images to avoid a problem. See a lawyer if you already have one. Don’t wait. The fines are stiff, and one mistake can break you financially.
Remember: Copyright law protects you, too. Learn the law and use it to your advantage with your own intellectual property.
A nonprofit group shares online or on social media a report that a business dumps oil or pollutants in a local waterway or labels a business as a “polluter.” At a public hearing on a development project, a representative of a nonprofit opposing the project accuses the developer of bribing government officials voting on the project. During a meeting by a nonprofit on hiring an executive director, a board member claims that a candidate was fired from a job because of mismanagement of money.
Social media and other forms of digital technology can cause these and other false statements to rapidly flow into public eyes and ears. Without filters and controls, creating or disseminating false and injurious statements can open your nonprofit organization to lawsuits and liability that can cripple your organization and its mission.
Understanding the law of defamation, what the alleged victim of a defamatory statement must prove, and what defenses may be available can help your nonprofit shape its practices in advocacy and administration.
What Is Defamation?
“Defamation” means the publication or other communication of a false statement that injures the reputation of another individual or organization. Specifically, the alleged victim of a defamatory statement must prove the following elements to be successful.
False Statement of Fact
You’re open to liability only for false statements of fact. Mere opinions rendered in your posts or at meetings are not defamatory. Opinions, such as a company is “bad” or “not environmentally friendly,” or that a particular person is “ignorant” normally cannot be proved as true or false. These statements escape defamation lawsuits because they either constitute hyperbole, are vague, and cannot be proven as true or false.
Sometimes, even what appears to be a statement of fact may in its context be deemed a joke or made in jest. Such statements are usually not actionable.
Harm to Reputation
Many assertions on their face damage a person or business’s reputation. These include “crimes of moral turpitude,” such as theft, tax evasion, bribery, and murder. Claims that someone has committed fraud, lacks the ability or ethics to perform a job, or that someone suffers from a loathsome disease also fall in the ranks of statements that are defamatory on their face.
In other cases, a statement is defamatory only when considered in context with other circumstances.
For churches or religious organizations, an accusation that a member or the pastor espouses “false doctrines or does not follow the ‘tenets’ of the church” may damage that person’s standing, but will not support a defamation lawsuit. Due to the First Amendment’s “Establishment Clause,” courts do not decide on matters of faith or religious doctrine. To determine whether a claim that a pastor engages in heresy would involve a court impermissibly passing on the meaning of church teachings.
Identifying the Plaintiff
In addition to using the specific name of the victim in the communication, you defame with an accusation toward someone who can readily be identified. This happens when the communication refers to a group that is small enough for a reasonable person to associate the victim with that group. A plaintiff is also sufficiently identified by reference to a business or other establishment that it runs at a specific address or location.
Publication to Third Persons
Without question, social media, emails, newsletters, news releases and speeches are recognized methods of “publication” to third parties for purposes of defamation.
Communications within your organization can also be defamatory, particularly when they concern your volunteers or staff members. For instance, your director “publishes” an accusation of theft by the treasurer if they report it to the board. Strictly speaking, if this accusation is false, then your director has defamed the treasurer. However, your director and the organization may have a privilege in making the report.
Defenses to Defamation
Under the law, a privilege excuses behavior which otherwise results in liability for the actor.
The qualified privilege represents one such defense to a defamation lawsuit. To use it, the communicator must act in good faith, be addressing a matter of concern to the nonprofit, be acting under a legal obligation, and communicate with a person interested in the subject matter.
For nonprofits, the qualified privilege usually arises in the course of investigating or handling wrongdoing within the organization. Staff, directors or volunteers may answer questions from auditors or law enforcement. The board may want a report from staff or the director about matters such as embezzlement, waste of resources, or other incidents involving employees.
However, qualified privilege does not shield your nonprofit from malicious statements. The victim can prove the malicious nature of the statement by showing the speaker knew the it was false, or had a reckless disregard for whether what they were saying was true.
To protect the nonprofit, communications should follow a thorough investigation, have some support in documents or sources that appear to be reliable and be limited to those involved in the investigation or law enforcement. Simply clicking “share” on a post without vetting the source of information or even a cursory examination of its credibility can open the nonprofit to a charge of recklessness. Attempts to control who speaks or writes about a matter by selecting a spokesperson can help show that the organization sought to avoid excessive and disorderly publication.
Public Officials and Matters of Public Concern
Nonprofits frequently enter the arena of ideas – addressing matters of social, economic, and political impact. As such, nonprofits direct comments, criticisms, and claims of varying sorts at public officials or on matters of public concern.
A 1964 landmark U.S. Supreme Court opinion affords nonprofits considerable protection against defamation suits when they comment about government, political, and social issues. Specifically, otherwise false statements about a public official are not defamatory unless the commentator knows the statements are false or has a reckless disregard for the truth. Being merely negligent in an assertion doesn’t expose the nonprofit to a suit when it comes to a public official, though it can when the statement is about a private citizen who isn’t speaking on a matter of public concern.
The First Amendment’s freedom of speech clause heightens the standards when public officials sue nonprofits and others. Allowing public officials or those who speak on matters of public concern to recover for negligently false statements can chill speech, robust debate, and the ability to hold governments and businesses accountable for their wrongful actions.
Even a successful defense to a defamation suit can financially disrupt a nonprofit and its work. A judgment against the nonprofit could force it into bankruptcy and dissolution. Your nonprofit should have liability insurance to lessen the financial losses from a defamation lawsuit, and to provide the money to defend against such a lawsuit.
Depending on the specific insurer, the advertising portion of a liability policy covers lawsuits and damages arising from defamatory statements. Your insurer will select and pay the attorney fees and other expenses associated with a lawsuit.
Because nonprofits are generally not immune from lawsuits for defamation, your organization should handle publication of information with care. Examine sources carefully and stick to well-known or respected ones, such as law enforcement or official agencies. Determine who should speak for the organization, screen the communication in advance, and exercise diligence in verifying the accuracy of it. Avoiding personal attacks and concentrating on the substance of the issues can also lessen the chances of a lawsuit.