Whether it is building a house or working at a local meal center, people volunteer for various reasons. Some people do so because it gives them a chance to give back to the community. And likewise, some people do so to make a meaningful societal difference. A Chicken Soup for the Soul kind of reasoning. For others, it is an opportunity to develop new skills or improve existing ones, make new friends, or, less altruistically, watch a live entertainment. Sadly, like any activity, personal injury can happen while volunteering.
It is bad enough that someone was injured while doing a good deed, but another piece of bad news is that workers’ compensation coverage does not extend to volunteer workers. Under the Florida Workers’ Compensation Act, volunteer workers are not considered employees unless they are volunteering for a governmental entity. This means that the volunteer workers are not covered by Florida Workers Compensation Act unless the volunteering is done for the state, county, municipality, or other governmental entity. This is the only saving grace for our brave volunteer firefighters, police officers, other first responders, and trial jurors. Yes… trial jurors who gallantly and perhaps unwillingly answer the great call of our nation’s civic duty.
More bad news is that even if the volunteer worker is eligible for workers’ compensation benefits, they might be eligible for medical benefits only, and not indemnity benefits that are due for wage loss. It makes some sense that no loss of wage incurred since a volunteer is a person who does not receive monetary remuneration for services. This does not mean there can never be an indemnity benefits for volunteer workers. Although case law on the subject is limited, the First District Court of Appeal of Florida suggests using wages from qualifying concurrent employment to establish an average weekly wage, which may create entitlement to indemnity benefits.
Assessing whether a volunteer works for a governmental entity and whether he or she is eligible for indemnity benefits is a case by case, fact-driven inquiry which should be carefully examined by a claimant’s attorney. A case in point, it is possible to obtain coverage for a volunteer worker in a non-governmental entity if the government directly hires the entity to carry out governmental work. With that said, just because someone was injured during the course of volunteer work does not mean that they are not qualified from receiving worker’s compensation benefits.