America is a nation of volunteers. We volunteer for political campaigns, social and charitable functions, and work-related events. Most of this volunteering is done without any thought as to liability consequences; for example, who is liable for certain acts or omissions that cause injury or damage to the volunteer or others. If we use a volunteer, John Q. Public, as an example, then perhaps the potential consequences of volunteering will be made clearer.

In the first scenario, Public has volunteered to build houses for a local humanitarian society. While constructing the house, Public accidentally shoots a fellow volunteer with a nail gun, backs his car over the foot of a curious passerby, and puts five staples from a power stapler into his own hand. After leaving the hospital, Public goes home to ponder his situation.

Presuming that the local humanitarian organization has no liability insurance, Public must look to his own insurance coverages. Public’s homeowners’ policy offers him liability coverage for damages because of bodily injury caused by an occurrence. There is an exclusion on his policy for injury arising out of or in connection with a business engaged in by an insured. Now, “business” is defined in the standard homeowners’ policy as a trade, profession, or occupation engaged in on a full-time, part-time, or occasional basis. Whether this description fits Public is debatable, because he actually makes his living as a teacher. Moreover, the policy goes on to state that a business does not include volunteer activities for which no money is received, other than payment for expenses incurred to perform the activity. So, if the fellow volunteer sues Public for the injury, then Public’s homeowners’ policy will provide liability coverage.

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