Are You Liable for the Actions of Your Volunteers?


If your housing cooperative employs the help from any volunteers, you may be liable for their actions. In California a volunteer was supervising an after school group on a non-profit’s property. One boy was getting a little rough during a game, and was admonished several times by the volunteer. The boy did not listen to the volunteer and made a dangerous gesture toward the volunteer, who lightly tapped the boy upside the head and told him to “knock it off and settle down.”

The boy’s parents learned of the incident when they picked him up, and the boy told them the volunteer slapped him across the face. This was contradicted by several witnesses who were there when the incident happened. The Police responded the next day to the non-profit’s property.

The volunteer may face criminal charges for his actions depending on the statements made to police and the discretion exercised by the reviewing prosecutor. The volunteer is liable for any tort he committed, and the non-profit may be liable for negligence and may be vicariously liable for the volunteer’s actions.

A non-profit can be liable for the conduct of a volunteer if the volunteer’s “tort” was directly related to his responsibilities and authority, or if the volunteer had a prior criminal history that the non-profit did not check which would have indicated that he was likely to do it again, or if he had not been properly trained or supervised.

A non-profit is not normally liable if the volunteer acted outside the scope of his authority, or if he had no known history of such behavior.