ARRL

ARRL General Bulletin ARLB028 (1997)

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ARLB028 Congress acts to protect volunteers

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ARRL Bulletin 28  ARLB028
From ARRL Headquarters
Newington CT  May 30, 1997
To all radio amateurs

SB QST ARL ARLB028
ARLB028 Congress acts to protect volunteers

The US House and Senate have passed companion bills aimed at
shielding volunteers from lawsuits resulting from their activities as
volunteers. The Senate has passed S 544, and the House has passed a
companion bill, HR 911, each described as ''The Volunteer Protection
Act of 1997.'' The Senate is expected to adopt the House version of
the bill and send to President Clinton for signature.

As a result, volunteers of nonprofit organizations and government
entities will, in the words of the House Judiciary Committee report
on the bill, ''generally be relieved of liability for harm caused if .
. . the volunteer was acting within the scope of the volunteer's
responsibilities.''

This will be good news to Volunteer Examiners, Official Observers,
ARES and RACES volunteers and others working under the sponsorship of
a qualifying non-profit organization, all of whom appear to be
covered by HR 911. The pending new law means that you aren't as
likely to be sued as a result of harm unintentionally caused to
someone else, if your actions were part of your responsibilities as a
volunteer working on behalf of a government agency or a non-profit
organization.

Amateurs and other volunteers are advised that until the bill is
signed by the President and its various loopholes pass the scrutiny
of the legal community, they should not assume they'll automatically
be covered. It appears, for example, that ham volunteers not working
under the sponsorship of a qualifying organization and who provide
communication during a marathon, bicycle race or other public service
or public safety event might not be covered. The same exclusion might
apply to frequency coordinators and certain others who--though they
are volunteers--aren't participating on behalf of a non-profit
entity. The law will clearly protect only those who are ''volunteers
of a non-profit organization or government entity.'' The definition is
less clear with respect to ''non-profit organizations.'' These can be
Section 501(c)(3) entities, that is, an organization holding a
certain tax exemption from the IRS. But, they also include those
organizations which may not be tax-exempt, but which are organized
and conducted for public benefit and operated primarily for
charitable, civic, educational, religious, welfare, or health
purposes.

The growing reluctance of private citizens to volunteer for fear of
lawsuits triggered interest in this legislation. Some states have
enacted volunteer protection statutes, but inconsistency among the
various state laws prompted the League to promote liability
legislation in Congress, initially to protect VEs and Amateur
Auxiliary members.

The new legislation requires that the volunteer be licensed,
certified or authorized, ''if appropriate or required'' by state or
local authorities. It does not provide protection where the harm was
caused by willful or criminal misconduct, gross negligence, reckless
misconduct, or conscious, flagrant indifference to rights or safety
of the individual(s) harmed by the volunteer. The House version of
the legislation would not cover any volunteer who inadvertently
caused harm to another person while operating a motor vehicle that
requires an operator license or insurance. Also, certain limitations
in existing state volunteer liability laws are not preempted by the
Federal protection under the bill.

ARRL General Counsel Chris Imlay, W3KD, is studying copies of the
House and Senate bills to determine the impact of the new legislation
on Amateur Radio volunteers.
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