Can I Be Liable for the Actions of My Volunteer?: Vicarious liability and volunteers.

AuthorChalaturnyk, Lauren

In many volunteer-driven organizations, volunteer coordinators or boards may hold the view that the organization is not liable for negligent or intentionally injurious actions of its volunteers. This can sometimes be the benefit of using volunteers. They are not employees and, therefore, the same rights and obligations that arise in the employment context do not always arise in the volunteer context. However, volunteer organizations should exercise caution. In some cases, even though a volunteer is not properly an employee of the organization, the organization can still be held liable if a volunteer does something negligent or intentionally hurts another person. This situation is referred to as vicarious liability.

Vicarious liability is liability imposed on one party because of the misconduct of another party. The most common relationship in which vicarious liability arises is the employer/employee relationship. Vicarious liability can also arise as a result of legislation. There are several rationales for the imposition of vicarious liability. One of the rationales is that the person who creates the risk should be the one to pay for any injuries resulting from that risk. The other rationale is that employers have "deeper pockets" to pay for any damages arising out of the liability of the employee.

To explain the basic parameters of vicarious liability, we will consider the employer/employee relationship. For vicarious liability to arise, an employee must have committed a tort (negligence or an intentional act that causes injury). That tort must have been committed during the course of that employee's employment. The logic being that employers should not be held liable for the bad behaviour of their employees outside working hours. Generally, vicarious liability will be found where an employer has authorized an employee to do something and the employee does that task negligently or carelessly.

The easiest way to avoid this type of outcome is for employers to ensure that when they authorize an employee to complete a certain task, they also train the employee to complete that task properly. This is why having employment policies, procedures and training processes in place is so important.

Employers may also be held liable for the deliberate or malicious actions of their employees if the employer has enhanced the risk of that action occurring. The most common case study of this type of situation is where employers are found vicariously liable...

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