If Someone Is Asked to Do Something outside Their Scope of Volunteer Work and They Are Injured, Can They Sue the Nonprofit?

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Volunteering for nonprofits is a common way that millions of people give back to their communities and help the less fortunate. People spend between a few hours and several years volunteering at blood banks, food drives, and soup kitchens. It is an honorable way of spending time that can also help people build social networks and make friends. However, in some instances, volunteering at nonprofit organizations may prove to be dangerous. Those dangers are exacerbated by nonprofits that push individuals to do more than they originally agreed to or felt comfortable with. When those requests go too far, they can result in injuries and a considerable amount of liability for the nonprofit in question.

Nonprofits and Volunteers

The image that many people have of nonprofits working on shoestring budgets with no considerable income stream is not accurate in many instances. Nonprofits can be very similar to for-profit companies. Some of them are worth hundreds of millions of dollars. These institutions employ thousands of people all around the world. They have a number of people who work for them who are frequently given a number of tasks to complete. These tasks may involve lifting heavy objects or working with complicated equipment. Such tasks often come fraught with a level of possible danger. Individuals can drop objects on themselves or be caught up in machines. They may be injured interacting with members of the public or handling food. These injuries may involve lost wages and massive medical bills.

Such possible problems are the major reasons why nonprofits have a considerable amount of liability insurance. This liability insurance helps to protect them from the damages and medical costs that may go along with a potential injury. The company pays a small amount each month so they will be able to handle possible large expenditures in the future.

Volunteers with nonprofits also sometimes have to sign waiver agreements. these waivers help to protect the nonprofit from the possibility of a lawsuit from an individual injured volunteering for them. They show that an individual knows and understands the risks they will be facing while working this volunteer position. The variable nature of work for nonprofits means that these institutions often do not have to pay for the workers’ compensation insurance that for-profit companies have to pay for.

Liabilities and Nonprofits

However, in some ways these companies are even more susceptible to injury related lawsuits then for-profit companies are. The main reason for this is the fickle nature of volunteer labor. The waivers that nonprofit organizations draw up for their volunteers often focus on a set of volunteer duties that an individual has signed up for. Having such a set of duties can cause problems for the volunteer organization because of the ways in which volunteer organizations use labor.

When a group does not pay workers, there is an inevitable shortage of labor. Individuals are almost assumed to do extra work because a volunteer does not show up when they agreed to. Being required to do extra labor outside of their original skill set often brings people outside of the parameters of the original waiver agreement. This activity can open up a nonprofit to a lawsuit.

The lawsuits coming from a nonprofit related injury can vary wildly. Minor injuries often involve minor settlements or awards. A nonprofit may be asked to simply pay for medical bills for an individual. A large number of nonprofits will simply pay the medical bills in order to keep their reputation and their volunteer. In other cases, the judgment will be much more severe. Nonprofits can be guilty of the same malicious workplace violations that for-profit companies may be guilty of.

They can work individuals in unsafe conditions and illegally return them to work after they have injuries that otherwise seen minor. Nonprofits may also threaten retaliation against individuals who report their injuries. Such retaliation points to a willful disregard of the law and may lead to punitive damages that will exceed an individual’s medical bills period. In a particularly severe case, a nonprofit could be on the hook for millions of dollars for improperly treating an injured volunteer or employee. It is up to an attorney and a judge to decide whether or not an individual has a case and is entitled to a significant compensation from a nonprofit.

Nonprofit Injuries: What to Do

If you are injured while working for a nonprofit, the first step to take is to seek immediate medical care. You want to make sure that you are safe and healthy, no matter the situation. Once basic recuperation has occurred, you should go back over any material that you signed and agreed to before you begin to work for the nonprofit. This material includes any job duties or waivers against lawsuits that you may have signed. All of the material will become available for discovery. Losing certain documents may result in a weaker case or even in an individual losing his or her case. Depending on the severity of your injury and your likelihood of having a case, it is almost always preferable to at least talk to an attorney.

Short meetings with attorneys are sometimes free and will help you determine if you have a case and if you should pursue that case further. If you do pursue a case, you should consider your options about when to continue fighting the case and when to settle. Many individuals who work for volunteer organizations love the work that the organizations are doing and do not want to cause those organizations particular financial harm. An attorney will help you figure out the amounts you need to become whole and the amounts of damages that the nonprofit may have to pay.


Nonprofits offer helpful, productive jobs to millions of people. They give individuals a way to get in touch with their greater community and give back to causes they believe in. Individuals who work for these respectable institutions must be careful and make sure to hold these institutions accountable if they are injured. Ignoring possible legal remedies can result in a person losing thousands of dollars they would otherwise be entitled to.

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