Is a Volunteer Covered under a Nonprofit’s Medical Insurance in Case of an Injury?

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An insurance policy is a contract between the insurance company and the party purchasing the policy. The extent of the coverage is governed by the language of the document. Medical insurance is no different. A nonprofit’s medical insurance covers individuals that are named in the policy. The amount of benefits payable is all spelled out in great detail. The answer to this question requires an examination of the nonprofit’s medical insurance policy. A volunteer would be well advised to ask this question before performing any work. It is a question that the nonprofit will probably not address before a volunteer starts to work. Hopefully, it is one the organization thought about when purchasing medical insurance. There are numerous considerations that go into answering this question and each one needs to be addressed. There is much more to the question that a simple yes or no.

VOLUNTEER VS. EMPLOYEE

The simple answer is that an employee is paid and a volunteer works for free. That is not always the legal answer. Some states may require someone who is a full-time or mostly full-time volunteer to be treated like an employee. That means they have to be covered under the workers’ compensation laws. This would not apply to the occasional volunteer who shows up to help a couple of times a year. Some states would not allow a volunteer to be treated as eligible for workers’ compensation benefits. This is important because workers’ compensation will pay for medical bills due to an injury on the job. A volunteer who is covered under workers’ compensation would not need to file a claim under the nonprofit’s medical insurance policy.

WAIVER OF CLAIM

Most nonprofits require volunteers to sign a waiver of liability. The purpose of the waiver is to protect the nonprofit from any liability. This includes payment of medical bills for injuries suffered by the volunteer while working for the nonprofit. It also includes damages for lost wages and permanent disability as a result of the injury. This could easily occur if a volunteer slips and falls on a wet floor in the nonprofit’s kitchen and they break a leg. Not only do they have substantial medical bills, but they also have lost wages when they cannot work at their paying job. When the leg does not heal properly, they now have a permanent disability. The waiver sounds like a great idea. The problem is that courts are reluctant to enforce them, especially in a circumstance when it is the nonprofit’s fault that the floor was wet and not cleaned up. A waiver, therefore, might not prevent a volunteer from seeking payment for damages. In addition, most medical insurance policies do not address the issue of liability. If a person is covered, then payment is made no matter how the injury occurred.

PLACE OF INJURY

A volunteer’s medical expenses must relate to an injury at a location under the control of the nonprofit. This probably means inside a physical location such as a building. It could apply outside the building if the volunteer is unloading a truck or van owned and operated by the nonprofit. It could also include a private vehicle of an employee or volunteer if the nonprofit authorized the use of the vehicle for its business. This would be the situation where a volunteer agreed to pick up food for a nonprofit’s food pantry and they used their personal vehicle. Any volunteer taking food out of the vehicle would probably have a claim against the nonprofit for any injury.

NATURE OF INJURY

The injuries that the volunteer will seek to be paid by the nonprofit’s medical insurance policy are almost always the result of an accident. In addition to the previously mentioned slip and fall, a volunteer can injure their back picking up heavy boxes. They can trip over an object left in a walkway. There are numerous ways a volunteer can be hurt in an accident. Instead of a medical insurance policy, a nonprofit needs an accident policy that pays medical bills, temporary disability, and permanent disability benefits.

INTERACTION OF POLICIES

A volunteer who has their own medical insurance policy is probably going to find that it will pay for any treatment even if it is the result of an accident. The nonprofit’s policy will only pay whatever is not covered. The two policies together should pay all the bills, leaving the volunteer with no medical expenses. This assumes, of course, that the nonprofit has a policy that covers volunteers. The volunteer’s policy may seek reimbursement from the nonprofit’s policy, but that is between the two insurance companies and not the concern of the volunteer.

SUMMARY

This question raised many issues that are important not only to the volunteer but to the nonprofit. A volunteer is doing a wonderful service by working for free for a nonprofit. Most nonprofits could not exist without volunteers. The cost of the work done by volunteers would be beyond the financial ability of the nonprofit.

The important consideration is for the volunteer and nonprofit to understand the risks each one is taking. For example, a nonprofit should probably get every volunteer to sign a waiver even if it is not enforceable in some circumstances. A volunteer reading the waiver will get an understanding of the risks they are taking. The waiver should also include the volunteer stating whether or not they have health insurance. A nonprofit should think long and hard about letting someone without health insurance help out. It would certainly look bad for a volunteer to get hurt and have large medical bills they cannot pay due to an accident at the nonprofit’s place of business.

The solution for the nonprofit is an accident policy. If they do not have one, they are running the risk of their assets being exposed to a lawsuit. For the volunteer, they are taking a risk working for a nonprofit without some type of insurance, whether it is medical or accident. Each side needs to consider the risks. A volunteer who just helps out once a year at the annual fundraiser will probably never think about all these considerations and risks. It is probably the obligation of the nonprofit to bring it to the attention of the volunteer when they present the waiver form.

Volunteers offer their time because they believe in the purpose and focus of a nonprofit. It would be unfortunate to have unpaid medical bills undermine the good deeds of the nonprofit. Both volunteers and nonprofits need to work together to solve this question and come up with an acceptable answer for both parties.

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