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Cutting Costs: When Using Volunteers Does More Harm Than Good By Andrew F. Meinert, Esq.

Andrew Meinert

With next year’s budgets in preparation, boards may be looking for ways to cut costs and reduce spending.  Often, Board’s will look to their owners to volunteer for a variety of maintenance tasks, from snow shoveling to planting flowers.  While minor work can be performed by volunteers with relatively little liability exposure, that is not the case with more significant work.

An association may be exposed to liability by allowing volunteers to perform association maintenance work if the volunteer injures themselves while performing a task, or if they injure another individual or cause property damage.  Generally, an association is liable for the acts and omissions of it agents and employees, which includes volunteers acting with a board’s permission.  To avoid putting a volunteer in a positon where they are likely to hurt themselves or a third party, we recommend that volunteers never be permitted to 1) use power tools or chemicals, 2) perform any task that requires a license, and 3) perform any task that requires their feet to leave the ground.

No matter what work a volunteer might perform for an association, boards should require that every volunteer sign a waiver agreement.  These agreements waive all potential claims against the association and reasonably limit the association’s liability for potential damages suffered by the volunteer.  When volunteers provide or perform relatively low risk work or services for an Association, a waiver agreement provides fairly comprehensive protection for an association.

No waiver, however, can fully guarantee that any and all risk and liability associated with volunteer work will be avoided.  While a volunteer may state that they release an association from any potential claims, the waiver will only be one factor a court considers when determining an association’s relative liability for particular damages.  When a volunteer is performing work involving a higher degree of skill, expertise, or risk of injury, a waiver agreement is less effective. 

Finally, boards should contact their association’s insurance agent to consult about the use of volunteers, regardless of work they will perform.  The insurance agent will be able to discuss the impact of the association’s insurance policies on liability related to volunteers and vice versa, and can help the board make a more informed decision with respect to the use of volunteers.

While boards may be looking for ways to avoid assessment increases and keep costs low for their owners, cutting corners by using volunteers can lead to unnecessary liability exposure.  

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