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“Managing Maine Volunteers (From A Legal Perspective)”

Published March 9, 2011

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By Eileen Buzzello

Maine is a state that knows how to give back.  We rank 2nd among the New England states in numbers of volunteers, and 15th in the nation.  Volunteers are the key to success in many organizations, and are an asset to be valued and protected.  Unfortunately, many times the risks associated with volunteers and volunteering are not well understood – either by the managers of volunteers or the volunteers themselves. 

There are four basic risk management strategies – avoid it, change it, accept it, or share it.  You can avoid it entirely if it poses too much of a risk; change the service or program in such a way as to minimize the risk; accept the risk as is, or as minimized; or share the risk with another organization – as in contracting for liability insurance coverage. 

Some of the risks associated with volunteering are legal ones.  Both State of Maine and federal laws address some of these risks by providing levels of protection in certain circumstances.  For example, Maine is one of only nine states that follow the common law doctrine of charitable immunity.  14 M.R.S. §158-A provides immunity from civil liability to directors, officers or volunteers of a charitable organization for personal injury, death or property damage resulting from their negligent acts or omissions – so long as they occur within the course and scope of the activities of the charitable organization.  Another example is the federal Volunteer Protection Act of 1997 (42 U.S.C. §14502, et al) which provides immunity to volunteers under certain circumstances for their negligent acts so long as they meet the criteria set out in this act. 

To learn more about these laws, and many others affecting volunteers and volunteer managers in Maine, you can download “Managing Maine Volunteers (From A Legal Perspective)” published by the Maine Commission for Community Service. There will also be a webinar offered by the Maine Commission for Community Service on this topic on May 19, 2011.  Click here to register.