Can I make a public liability claim against a volunteer?

Published 13 Mar 2018

Volunteering provides much-needed help to the community, enabling charities to keep offering essential services, while ensuring vulnerable groups are given a better chance at life.

Nearly one-third of the country’s adults performed voluntary work in 2014, according to the latest data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics. This represents approximately 743 million hours of unpaid work for worthy causes.

But what happens when a Good Samaritan’s negligence results in someone sustaining injuries? Can they be held responsible? And can people still make public liability claims to recover compensation?

Before we answer these questions, it helps to have a broad understanding of how public liability laws in Queensland operate.

Understanding QLD liability laws

The Civil Liability Act 2003 governs the circumstances under which claimants can successfully receive compensation in the state.

Briefly, a court can award damages to anyone who has sustained injuries due to an individual or organisation breaching its duty of care. The defendant’s negligent action must be the direct cause of the injury for which the plaintiff is pursuing compensation.

There are caveats that defendants can rely upon. For example, plaintiffs are expected to be aware of obvious risks they face when undertaking certain activities – such as dangerous recreational sports – and defendants do not have a proactive duty to warn of these hazards.

Nevertheless, organisations can be held liable for the negligent actions of their employees, which is why many businesses purchase public liability insurance as coverage.

How do liability laws apply to volunteers?

Section 39 of the Act provides specific protection for volunteers who are working on behalf of community organisations. This includes:

  • Corporations;
  • Trustees acting in the capacity of a trustee;
  • Churches or religious groups;
  • Registered political parties;
  • Public or other authorities;
  • Parents and citizens organisations formed under Chapter 7 of the Education (General Provisions) Act 2006; and
  • Other entities formed through regulations.

However, the Act does not protect volunteers who were intoxicated while performing their duties or were participating in criminal behaviour. Volunteers who were not following instructions or did not hold the right insurance may also be liable.

As such, whether or not you can pursue a public liability claim against a volunteer depends on the unique circumstances in which injuries are sustained.

Volunteers are typically protected against lawsuits if they were acting in good faith while performing their duties, but it’s important to discuss your injuries with an expert before abandoning your case.

To find out if you may be entitled to damages, please contact a member of our team at Gerard Malouf & Partners Compensation, Medical Negligence & Will Dispute Lawyers.

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