Volunteers and Professional and Abuse and Molestation Liability

Do you know if your volunteers have coverage under your abuse and molestation liability policy? How about your professional liability policy? Do you have either or both policies in place?

Volunteers & PL & AML web

General Liability vs. Professional Liability or Abuse & Molestation Liability

One of the unique characteristics of a nonprofit liability insurance program is that nearly every service-oriented nonprofit has a professional liability exposure. It’s also true that many nonprofits have an abuse and molestation exposure.

General liability will always have a professional services exclusion. And often, with nonprofits, there will be an additional exclusionary endorsement (i.e. an additional form slapped on to the back of the policy) to exclude claims that could be the result of ‘professional services.’

Further, general liability policies normally remain silent on abuse and molestation liability. Silence typically indicates coverage (as most policies these days are ‘Special Form’ which means that coverage is assumed  unless it is specifically excluded in the policy or by endorsement).

In the nonprofit insurance world, though, abuse and molestation will nearly always be excluded and only given back with an endorsement or a separate policy.

The upshot is this: The general liability, which offers coverage for volunteers, will not provide coverage for any insured for professional liability or abuse and molestation liability (although there are very occasional exceptions to the rule as far as abuse/molestation is concerned).

Professional Liability and Volunteers

Professional liability does not require that a person maintain a professional designation. Consequently, any person providing advice, referrals, mentoring, or similar could be negligent in a professional liability suit.

And if you organization depends on volunteers to lead group mentoring, life skills training, or generally be available for your clients or consumers, then there is a chance that your volunteer is exposed from a professional standpoint.

As with any other insurance policy, the first thing you want to do in order to discover coverage for a particular person or group of persons is to find the ‘who is insured‘ section of the policy.  Next, you want to check the endorsements (the policy forms attached to the policy) to find out if there are any volunteer-related exclusionary or limiting endorsements.

The good news is that typically the professional liability policy acts like the general liability in affording coverage for volunteers.  Unlike general liability, though, the professional liability will often exclude coverage to the organization for  professional claims levied by the volunteer.

In other words, if a volunteer is providing professional services and is sued for his work, then he would have defense under the policy. If a volunteer sues as a recipient of services, that claim might be excluded.

Mid-post disclaimer: Always read your policy to confirm!

Abuse and Molestation Liability and Volunteers

It would be simple to say ‘ditto’ to the section above on professional liability, and I’d be mostly correct as it relates to abuse and molestation liability.

A piece of advice for looking at your policies: read your policies with an eye toward the keywords that are of concern at the moment.

Very often, insurance policies can be sent to you in searchable pdf form.  Search for the word ‘volunteer’ and read the surrounding statements to get an idea how your policy handles volunteers. Talk to your agent if you don’t understand what you’re reading.

You’ll find, more than likely, with abuse and molestation liability, that your volunteers are covered just as an employee might be covered. The individual would have defense unless found criminally guilty. Then the organization would have coverage for further defense and/or settlement payment.

To Sum It Up…

Some key points:

  • Your general liability policy will, typically,  exclude both professional and abuse and molestation liability.
  • If professional liability and abuse/molestation policies are in place, then your organization will have coverage for the negligence of individual volunteers.
  • Volunteers, also, will have defense and potentially claim payment on their behalf for professional acts.
  • Volunteers will have defense and possibly settlement funds for abuse and molestation claims, if no criminal guilt.
  • Volunteers WILL NOT have coverage for abuse and molestation claims if they are found criminally guilty. Criminal acts, as a rule, are excluded period.
  • The organization will not have coverage (typically – but read your policy) for claims made by volunteers for either professional negligence or abuse and molestation liability.

Just be aware that when we move beyond the general liability policies, most insurance carriers can manuscript their own professional liability and abuse and molestation liability insurance policies. This means that each policy should be reviewed on its own merits.

Reviewing Your Own Insurance Policies for Coverage

The guidelines given in this post will not hold true every single time. My intent is to give you some things to look out for and typical policy tendencies. In order to see how your nonprofit’s insurance program addresses these issues:

  1. Start with your concerns, i.e. ‘Is my organization covered if my volunteer gives dumb advice?’ or ‘Is my volunteer covered if she’s falsely accused of abuse?’
  2. Take those questions to your agent and sit down with your current policies and do a thorough review.
  3. Finally, fill in the gaps where necessary.
  • Do your volunteers have professional liability exposures?
  • What non-insurance risk management procedures are in place to guide your volunteers around these types of claims?
  • Do your insurance policies address the abuse and molestation issue or the professional services exposure?



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