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I was injured while volunteering – what are my legal options?

This week is National Volunteer Week: a time to celebrate the commitment and selflessness of people who dedicate their time to worthy causes across Australia.

Sadly, people do suffer injuries in these roles, both physical and mental, and a question that often comes up is: Can I claim compensation if I’m injured while volunteering?

While we’d like to think that those doing good will be treated by the legal system with a similar level of kindness, legal recourse for injured volunteers is limited.

What is a volunteer?

Volunteering Australia defines a volunteer as anyone who willingly gives their time “for the common good and without financial gain”. This is typically done through an organisation like Amnesty or the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, but it may also be an informal arrangement.

Workers’ Compensation for volunteers

Workers Compensation provides an avenue for injured workers to claim weekly payments for time off work, reimbursement of medical expenses, and in some cases, lump sum compensation.

Given volunteers often do the work of a typical employee, whether it be physical labour or providing one-on-one support to someone in need, it seems reasonable to expect that they should have the same rights as workers when they’re injured.

Sadly, volunteers are not generally covered by the Workplace Injury Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 2013 and can’t lodge a WorkCover claim to recover the cost of medical expenses or lost earnings. This is because volunteers don’t work for money, and a working arrangement is only compensable under Workcover where a monetary reward is payable for the services.

There are, however, some exceptions. If you volunteer in one of the following capacities, you can lodge a claim through WorkCover:

  • Members of Victorian SES
  • Jurors
  • Volunteer school or student workers
  • Volunteers assisting the police
  • Casual firefighters (CFA).

It’s important to remember that if you are employed in a paid capacity by a not-for-profit organisation, you will qualify as a worker, and can make a WorkCover claim.

What options are available to an injured volunteer?

Public liability

If you don’t fall under one of the exceptions above, there may still be options available for you to seek compensation.

Firstly, you might be able to bring a public liability claim against the relevant volunteer organisation or individual.

Individuals and volunteer organisations still have an obligation to maintain a safe environment and work standards for volunteers to ensure they are not injured while volunteering.

Whilst not mandatory, most organisations will have public liability insurance, which avoids them having to pay negligence claims from their own pockets.  Moreover, many individual homeowners will have home insurance that includes public liability cover.

Therefore, if you trip over a hazard, injure yourself lifting something heavy, or even suffer a psychiatric injury while volunteering, you may be able to bring a public liability claim.

To successfully bring a public liability claim it would be necessary to prove the injury was caused by the negligence of the volunteer organisation or individual.

This would enable you to claim compensation for your past and future loss of wages and out of pocket expenses.

Furthermore, if you are found to have suffered a “significant injury” as defined in the relevant law, you can also claim compensation for your pain and suffering and loss of enjoyment of life caused by the injury.

Whether negligence can be established will depend on the facts of each particular case.

Recently the Supreme Court of Tasmania upheld the findings of a lower court after a volunteer at a bowls club successfully sued the club for nasty injuries he suffered after hot fat spilled over his hand. The Supreme Court upheld the decision that the club was negligent in not providing safe barbeque equipment and protective gear and an award of over $1 million dollars for the cost of medical treatment, pain and suffering, and lost wages was confirmed.

Private Insurance/Superannuation

If you’re injured while volunteering and the injury prevents you from working in paid employment for a period of time or even permanently, you may be able to access compensation through private Income Protection or Total and Permanent Disablement (TPD) insurance.

TPD insurance is often provided by default under your Superannuation Policy, so it is important to make these enquiries. RCT Law can assist with this process.

Private insurance offers an alternative way of obtaining some financial support to alleviate the impact of the injuries suffered whilst volunteering.

The Importance of Good Legal Advice

Whether it be via a Workcover, Public Liability or a Private Insurance claim, there are compensation options available to people injured while volunteering.

However, these are by no means straightforward.

To ensure you are fully informed of your legal rights and can maximise your compensation recovery please contact Ryan Carlisle Thomas on [[$phoneNumber]] to arrange a free first consultation.

Finally, a big thank you to those who volunteer for their amazing contributions to the common good. We hope this information facilitates your ability to care for others by informing you of how to better care for yourself.