The Volunteer Protection Act of 1997 was signed into law by President Clinton in 1997. The text of the law follows. It is also available as a pdf download (124k) from our site.
VOLUNTEER PROTECTION ACT OF 1997
Public Law 105-19
To provide certain protections to volunteers, nonprofit organizations,
and governmental entities in lawsuits based on the activities of
volunteers. <<NOTE: June 18, 1997 – [S. 543]>>
Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the
United States of America in Congress <<NOTE: Volunteer Protection Act of
SECTION 1. <<NOTE: 42 USC 14501 note.>> SHORT TITLE.
This Act may be cited as the “Volunteer Protection Act of 1997”.
SEC. 2. <<NOTE: 42 USC 14501.>> FINDINGS AND PURPOSE.
(a) Findings.–The Congress finds and declares that–
(1) the willingness of volunteers to offer their services is
deterred by the potential for liability actions against them;
(2) as a result, many nonprofit public and private
organizations and governmental entities, including voluntary
associations, social service agencies, educational institutions,
and other civic programs, have been adversely affected by the
withdrawal of volunteers from boards of directors and service in
(3) the contribution of these programs to their communities
is thereby diminished, resulting in fewer and higher cost
programs than would be obtainable if volunteers were
(4) because Federal funds are expended on useful and cost-
effective social service programs, many of which are national in
scope, depend heavily on volunteer participation, and represent
some of the most successful public-private partnerships,
protection of volunteerism through clarification and limitation
of the personal liability risks assumed by the volunteer in
connection with such participation is an appropriate subject for
(5) services and goods provided by volunteers and nonprofit
organizations would often otherwise be provided by private
entities that operate in interstate commerce;
(6) due to high liability costs and unwarranted litigation
costs, volunteers and nonprofit organizations face higher costs
in purchasing insurance, through interstate insurance markets,
to cover their activities; and
(7) clarifying and limiting the liability risk assumed by
volunteers is an appropriate subject for Federal legislation
(A) of the national scope of the problems created by
the legitimate fears of volunteers about frivolous,
arbitrary, or capricious lawsuits;
(B) the citizens of the United States depend on, and
the Federal Government expends funds on, and provides
tax exemptions and other consideration to, numerous
social programs that depend on the services of
(C) it is in the interest of the Federal Government
to encourage the continued operation of volunteer
service organizations and contributions of volunteers
because the Federal Government lacks the capacity to
carry out all of the services provided by such
organizations and volunteers; and
(D)(i) liability reform for volunteers, will promote
the free flow of goods and services, lessen burdens on
interstate commerce and uphold constitutionally
protected due process rights; and
(ii) therefore, liability reform is an appropriate
use of the powers contained in article 1, section 8,
clause 3 of the United States Constitution, and the
fourteenth amendment to the United States Constitution.
(b) Purpose.–The purpose of this Act is to promote the interests of
social service program beneficiaries and taxpayers and to sustain the
availability of programs, nonprofit organizations, and governmental
entities that depend on volunteer contributions by reforming the laws to
provide certain protections from liability abuses related to volunteers
serving nonprofit organizations and governmental entities.
SEC. 3. <<NOTE: 42 USC 14502.>> PREEMPTION AND ELECTION OF STATE
(a) Preemption.–This Act preempts the laws of any State to the
extent that such laws are inconsistent with this Act, except that this
Act shall not preempt any State law that provides additional protection
from liability relating to volunteers or to any category of volunteers
in the performance of services for a nonprofit organization or
(b) Election of State Regarding Nonapplicability.–This Act shall
not apply to any civil action in a State court against a volunteer in
which all parties are citizens of the State if such State enacts a
statute in accordance with State requirements for enacting legislation–
(1) citing the authority of this subsection;
(2) declaring the election of such State that this Act shall
not apply, as of a date certain, to such civil action in the
(3) containing no other provisions.
SEC. 4. <<NOTE: 42 USC 14503.>> LIMITATION ON LIABILITY FOR VOLUNTEERS.
(a) Liability Protection for Volunteers.–Except as provided in
subsections (b) and (d), no volunteer of a nonprofit organization or
governmental entity shall be liable for harm caused by an act or
omission of the volunteer on behalf of the organization or entity if–
(1) the volunteer was acting within the scope of the
volunteer’s responsibilities in the nonprofit organization or
governmental entity at the time of the act or omission;
(2) if appropriate or required, the volunteer was properly
licensed, certified, or authorized by the appropriate
authorities for the activities or practice in the State in which
the harm occurred, where the activities were or practice was
within the scope of the volunteer’s responsibilities in the
nonprofit organization or governmental entity;
(3) the harm was not caused by willful or criminal
misconduct, gross negligence, reckless misconduct, or a
conscious, flagrant indifference to the rights or safety of the
individual harmed by the volunteer; and
(4) the harm was not caused by the volunteer operating a
motor vehicle, vessel, aircraft, or other vehicle for which the
State requires the operator or the owner of the vehicle, craft,
or vessel to–
(A) possess an operator’s license; or
(B) maintain insurance.
(b) Concerning Responsibility of Volunteers to Organizations and
Entities.–Nothing in this section shall be construed to affect any
civil action brought by any nonprofit organization or any governmental
entity against any volunteer of such organization or entity.
(c) No Effect on Liability of Organization or Entity.–Nothing in
this section shall be construed to affect the liability of any nonprofit
organization or governmental entity with respect to harm caused to any
(d) Exceptions to Volunteer Liability Protection.–If the laws of a
State limit volunteer liability subject to one or more of the following
conditions, such conditions shall not be construed as inconsistent with
(1) A State law that requires a nonprofit organization or
governmental entity to adhere to risk management procedures,
including mandatory training of volunteers.
(2) A State law that makes the organization or entity liable
for the acts or omissions of its volunteers to the same extent
as an employer is liable for the acts or omissions of its
(3) A State law that makes a limitation of liability
inapplicable if the civil action was brought by an officer of a
State or local government pursuant to State or local law.
(4) A State law that makes a limitation of liability
applicable only if the nonprofit organization or governmental
entity provides a financially secure source of recovery for
individuals who suffer harm as a result of actions taken by a
volunteer on behalf of the organization or entity. A financially
secure source of recovery may be an insurance policy within
specified limits, comparable coverage from a risk pooling
mechanism, equivalent assets, or alternative arrangements that
satisfy the State that the organization or entity will be able
to pay for losses up to a specified amount. Separate standards
for different types of liability exposure may be specified.
(e) Limitation on Punitive Damages Based on the Actions of
(1) General rule.–Punitive damages may not be awarded
against a volunteer in an action brought for harm based on the
action of a volunteer acting within the scope of the volunteer’s
responsibilities to a nonprofit organization or governmental
entity unless the claimant establishes by clear and convincing
evidence that the harm was proximately caused by an action of
such volunteer which constitutes willful or criminal misconduct,
or a conscious, flagrant indifference to the rights or safety of
the individual harmed.
(2) Construction.–Paragraph (1) does not create a cause of
action for punitive damages and does not preempt or supersede
any Federal or State law to the extent that such law would
further limit the award of punitive damages.
(f) Exceptions to Limitations on Liability.–
(1) In general.–The limitations on the liability of a
volunteer under this Act shall not apply to any misconduct
(A) constitutes a crime of violence (as that term is
defined in section 16 of title 18, United States Code)
or act of international terrorism (as that term is
defined in section 2331 of title 18) for which the
defendant has been convicted in any court;
(B) constitutes a hate crime (as that term is used
in the Hate Crime Statistics Act (28 U.S.C. 534 note));
(C) involves a sexual offense, as defined by
applicable State law, for which the defendant has been
convicted in any court;
(D) involves misconduct for which the defendant has
been found to have violated a Federal or State civil
rights law; or
(E) where the defendant was under the influence (as
determined pursuant to applicable State law) of
intoxicating alcohol or any drug at the time of the
(2) Rule of construction.–Nothing in this subsection shall
be construed to effect subsection (a)(3) or (e).
SEC. 5. <<NOTE: 42 USC 14504.>> LIABILITY FOR NONECONOMIC LOSS.
(a) General Rule.–In any civil action against a volunteer, based on
an action of a volunteer acting within the scope of the volunteer’s
responsibilities to a nonprofit organization or governmental entity, the
liability of the volunteer for noneconomic loss shall be determined in
accordance with subsection (b).
(b) Amount of Liability.–
(1) In general.–Each defendant who is a volunteer, shall be
liable only for the amount of noneconomic loss allocated to that
defendant in direct proportion to the percentage of
responsibility of that defendant (determined in accordance with
paragraph (2)) for the harm to the claimant with respect to
which that defendant is liable. The court shall render a
separate judgment against each defendant in an amount determined
pursuant to the preceding sentence.
(2) Percentage of responsibility.–For purposes of
determining the amount of noneconomic loss allocated to a
defendant who is a volunteer under this section, the trier of
fact shall determine the percentage of responsibility of that
defendant for the claimant’s harm.
SEC. 6. <<NOTE: 42 USC 14505.>> DEFINITIONS.
For purposes of this Act:
(1) Economic loss.–The term “economic loss” means any
pecuniary loss resulting from harm (including the loss of
earnings or other benefits related to employment, medical
expense loss, replacement services loss, loss due to death,
burial costs, and loss of business or employment opportunities)
to the extent recovery for such loss is allowed under applicable
(2) Harm.–The term “harm” includes physical, nonphysical,
economic, and noneconomic losses.
(3) Noneconomic losses.–The term “noneconomic losses”
means losses for physical and emotional pain, suffering,
inconvenience, physical impairment, mental anguish,
disfigurement, loss of enjoyment of life, loss of society and
companionship, loss of consortium (other than loss of domestic
service), hedonic damages, injury to reputation and all other
nonpecuniary losses of any kind or nature.
(4) Nonprofit organization.–The term “nonprofit
(A) any organization which is described in section
501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 and
exempt from tax under section 501(a) of such Code and
which does not practice any action which constitutes a
hate crime referred to in subsection (b)(1) of the first
section of the Hate Crime Statistics Act (28 U.S.C. 534
(B) any not-for-profit organization which is
organized and conducted for public benefit and operated
primarily for charitable, civic, educational, religious,
welfare, or health purposes and which does not practice
any action which constitutes a hate crime referred to in
subsection (b)(1) of the first section of the Hate Crime
Statistics Act (28 U.S.C. 534 note).
(5) State.–The term “State” means each of the several
States, the District of Columbia, the Commonwealth of Puerto
Rico, the Virgin Islands, Guam, American Samoa, the Northern
Mariana Islands, any other territory or possession of the United
States, or any political subdivision of any such State,
territory, or possession.
(6) Volunteer.–The term “volunteer” means an individual
performing services for a nonprofit organization or a
governmental entity who does not receive–
(A) compensation (other than reasonable
reimbursement or allowance for expenses actually
(B) any other thing of value in lieu of
in excess of $500 per year, and such term includes a volunteer
serving as a director, officer, trustee, or direct service
SEC. 7. EFFECTIVE DATE.
(a) In General.–This Act shall take effect 90 days after the date
of enactment of this Act.
(b) Application.–This Act applies to any claim for harm caused by
an act or omission of a volunteer where that claim is filed on or after
the effective date of this Act but only if the harm that is the subject
of the claim or the conduct that caused such harm occurred after such
Approved June 18, 1997.
LEGISLATIVE HISTORY–S. 543 (H.R. 911):
HOUSE REPORTS: No. 105-101, Pt. 1 (Comm. on the Judiciary) accompanying
CONGRESSIONAL RECORD, Vol. 143 (1997):
May 1, considered and passed Senate.
May 21, considered and passed House, amended, in lieu of
H.R. 911. Senate concurred in House amendment.