State & Local Programs

CASA: A Guide to Program Development

Section 1 - Planning a Quality Program (Chapters 1- 9)
Section II - Volunteers (Chapters 10- 12)
Section III - Managing the Program (Chapters - 13-15)

Manual HomeIntro Chapters1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 Section III - Managing the Program
Chapter 14: Risk Management

Fear of Legal Liability
   - Liability of the Individual Volunteer
   - Liability of the Organization to the Volunteer
   - Liability of the Organization Because of the Actions of Volunteers
Minimizing the Risk
   - Liability Insurance

Fear of Legal Liability

Fear of legal liability has become an increasing worry for volunteer programs in the past few years. Although there is very little hard data about the actual number of lawsuits, two things are clear:

  • The possibility of a CASA program being involved in an incident that results in legal action is increasing; and
  • The fear of such involvement is affecting the behavior of those who manage volunteer programs.

It is important not to get carried away with concern about liability when managing volunteers. The risk of liability operating a volunteer program is not much different from that of operating one with paid employees.

The kinds of risk inherent in a CASA program generally fall into three categories: liability of the individual volunteer; liability of the organization to the volunteer; and liability of the program because of the actions of its volunteers.


Liability of the Individual Volunteer

In most states volunteers are somewhat protected by immunity clauses in state law. However, they can still be personally responsible if someone is harmed as the result of their willful failure to follow program rules, abuse of a child, misuse of an automobile, negligence, or exercise of poor judgment.


Liability of the Organization to the Volunteer

When an individual joins an organization as an unpaid employee, the organization assumes certain obligations to that volunteer. These fall into two general categories: protection from harm, and personnel rules.

In protection from harm, an organization has an obligation to not recklessly endanger its volunteers. Basically this means either eliminating dangers or adequately alerting and preparing volunteers to deal with dangers. Volunteers, like paid staff, are owed this obligation to be adequately prepared and trained for their volunteer duties.

In personnel rules, volunteers are provided the right to fair treatment by the agency in hiring, firing, and other supervisory actions. Although this area of law is in rapid development at the present, current interpretation of the law prevents the organization from taking non-job related actions against volunteers. This does not mean that you can not turn down a volunteer applicant, but it prohibits turning them down based on their membership in a certain class of individuals defined by age, sex, race, disability, or religion.


Liability of the Organization Because of the Actions of Volunteers

If a CASA volunteer injures someone while performing CASA related duties, the volunteer might be sued and the program might be sued as well. This could occur under one of two legal approaches:

  • A volunteer acting within the scope of his/her duties can make the agency responsible because he/she is considered an agent of the organization, carrying out work on its behalf. The actions of the volunteer are, in essence, the actions of the program.
  • Volunteers who commit actions clearly outside the scope of his/her work (such as theft or child abuse) may also open the organization to suit. This is possible if the agency is itself guilty of negligent hiring, training, or supervision of the volunteer. In this case the agency may be held responsible because of its own failure to prevent the volunteer from injuring the injured party.


Minimizing the Risk

Developing management policies and procedures with an eye toward preventing or minimizing the potential risks, is a good way for a new program to reduce the chance of legal involvement. By taking the steps to identify potential risks associated with the CASA program and evaluating how they can be controlled, the board can develop appropriate protective measures early thus avoiding many of the small mistakes that can turn into big disasters.

Most risk can be controlled by carefully screening volunteer applicants, providing thorough training to both volunteers and staff, assuring there is adequate supervision of volunteers, and periodically reviewing the organization?s policies and procedures to assure they are understood.

The next step is assuring that everyone involved adheres to the policies and procedures consistently. That means never skipping a criminal background check or allowing a volunteer to take a child home "just this once." If anyone in the program fails to adhere to the program standards and harm occurs as a result, the program?s potential liability is increased.


Liability Insurance

The board will want to consider three types of insurance: liability for board members, liability for the program volunteers and staff, and theft and fire insurance for the office and its contents. The types and amounts of coverage will vary based on your program?s unique characteristics. Consulting local insurance agents who are familiar with nonprofit organizations will provide helpful information. It is also a good idea to consult with your state organization and with other local programs about their coverage.

National CASA has worked with an insurance company that can offer advice and coverage anywhere in the country. Call the national office to obtain their material.

One final note. Many CASA programs have chosen not to purchase liability insurance because they assume the court will dismiss any suit filed against the program. While this may be true, the dismissal of a suit does not preclude the necessity of hiring legal counsel to prepare briefs to present to the court regarding the action. It may be difficult to find pro bono legal assistance in such incidents and it is probably not possible for an attorney who sits on the board to also serve as the program?s attorney since he or she is also a party to the action as a board member. An insurance policy that provides coverage of legal fees may be worth considering.

Manual HomeIntro Chapters1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15
The US Department of Justice has supported CASA advocacy since 1985 through its Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.
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