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Is your county liable for volunteers?

A county commission in Pennsylvania recognized a risk and they checked with the county's liability and workers' compensation insurers as to the potential for a claim stemming from a group of volunteers with the Sheriff's department. This group, known as the "Sheriff's Posse" apparently helps with the department in some manner.

While this may be noble of them, the commissioners realized that should a volunteer become injured while engaging, however tenuously, in county law enforcement activities, the county needed to know if their insurance policies would cover their injuries if they were hurt during their activities.

Insurance policies tend to be long and detailed and insurers dislike being responsible for any risks beyond those explicitly covered by the contract of insurance. It is likely the policy is designed to cover licensed law enforcement deputies in the department and their support staff.

But not volunteers.

The commissioners have instructed the Sheriff's Department to obtain insurance coverage because if a volunteer were injured while working for the Sherriff's department, the county could be found liable for those injuries and the county's workers' compensation insurer would not provide coverage.

This situation did not occur in Wisconsin, and if it had, it is likely that the posse could not be covered by the state workers' compensation program, as the statute explicitly exempts "volunteers."

This could still present a problem a county or other entity with a "volunteer posse," as the injured volunteer would likely look for someone to sue to compensate them for their injuries if they were hurt.

 

Source: gantdaily.com, "Commissioners: No Liability Insurance, Workers’ Comp Coverage for Sheriff’s Posse Volunteers," Jessica Shirey, February 3, 2016

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