MGVs work on behalf of and under the supervision of UW-Extension. Liability protection is provided to all officers, employees and agents of UW-Extension under Wisconsin Statute 895.46(1). Volunteers acting under the direction and control of UW-Extension and for its benefit are considered agents and thus covered. This statute authorizes the State to pay claims based on the negligent acts of employees or agents or to defend employees or agents against allegations of negligence, which may have caused injury or property damage to others provided the employee or agent was acting within the scope of his/her responsibilities to UW-Extension. Liability coverage, legal counseling, and possible legal representation apply only when the individual is acting in an official capacity as a MGV, follows an approved job description, is supervised by a University employee, and adheres to UW-Extension policies. Coverage does not extend to other organizations or groups that a volunteer may choose to work with or has been authorized to work with. It is important that volunteers acknowledge mistakes that could lead to potential liability claims and that such incidents be reported promptly.
The federal Volunteer Protection Act of 1997 does exempt volunteers from some but not all liability for negligent acts (but provides no exemption for criminal actions). It requires a selection and training program and volunteer job descriptions. Activities of a MGA are not covered under the UW-Extension liability. MGVs are not eligible for workers’ compensation.
Proper selection, training, and supervision of volunteers, as well as taking corrective action when a volunteer fails to adhere to program policies is the best method of risk management. It is important that the county UW-Extension agent be kept informed of volunteer activities. It is equally important that MGVs be familiar with UW-Extension’s mission and policies.
Agents and MGAs are encouraged to purchase insurance to cover volunteers for field trips and special events.