Q: How helpful are charitable immunity laws?

A: Many states have enacted charitable immunity laws as a way to help protect volunteer workers from being sued in connection with their volunteer service.

In some instances, charitable immunity laws can offer valuable protection to volunteer ministry workers; however, they do not offer the broad immunity from litigation that many may think.

Although a few states offer broader protection to volunteer ministry workers, most state laws provide either very limited charitable immunity protection or no protection at all.

Charitable Immunity Laws Are Frequently Limited

  • They vary significantly by state.
  • They don’t apply to the ministry organization itself.
  • Only those serving on a volunteer basis are protected.
  • They frequently prevent only “beneficiaries” of the ministry from suing.
  • Suit can still typically be filed in connection with:
    • Employment-related claims
    • Automobile accidents
    • Sexual misconduct allegations
  • They apply only to claims of negligence.
  • They don’t apply to fines or penalties.
  • Legal defense costs will still likely be incurred.

Federal Volunteer Protection Act Offers Protection from Litigation

The federal government enacted the Volunteer Protection Act in 1997, offering volunteers in every state some protection from litigation. Many of the limitations list above also are present in the federal act and significantly dilute the potential protection of ministry volunteers that the act provides.

Should Your Ministry Purchase Insurance to Help Protect Volunteers?

Most liability coverages protect not only the ministry organization, but also its employees and volunteers. By purchasing insurance, the ministry can help “fill the gaps” associated with charitable immunity laws, and thereby keep volunteers from having to pay for covered defense costs and court awards out of their own pocket.

Check with Your Attorney

If you’re uncertain about the protection that ministry volunteers have in your state, ask a local attorney to review the applicable state and federal charitable immunity laws with you. For more information on this topic, read "How Helpful Are Charitable Immunity Laws?"

*Important information: Brotherhood Mutual is pleased to provide Legal Assist as a complimentary resource. The services we offer through Legal Assist are intended to provide general legal information to our current and prospective policyholders.

The information we provide is intended to be helpful, but it does not constitute legal advice and is not a substitute for the advice from a licensed attorney in your area. Accordingly, no attorney/client relationship is created through this process, and no legal advice will be provided. We strongly encourage you to regularly consult with a local attorney as part of your risk management program.