The Volunteer Protection Act: How to Protect Your Volunteers

July 27, 2021

In 2002, Nova Scotia established the Volunteer Protection Act (the “Act”). The Act was created to protect volunteers working for non-profit organizations.

The Act defines a “volunteer” as an individual performing services for a non-profit organization. This individual must not receive compensation (money or anything else with value) other than compensation for expenses that were actually incurred. The volunteer may be a director, officer, trustee, or employee of the non-profit organization.

A “non-profit organization” is defined as a body corporate or a society created under the Societies Act (Nova Scotia). The organization must be organized for public benefit and primarily operate for charitable, civic, educational, religious, welfare, health, sport, recreation, tourism, heritage or culture purposes. A non-profit organization specifically includes a municipality, an education entity, a regional library board and a hospital. The Governor in Council also has the power to designate an entity as a non-profit organization by regulation. To date, 6 organizations have been designated as non-profit organizations, including the 4 Provincial political parties.

A volunteer of a non-profit organization generally will not be liable for damage caused by the act or omission of the volunteer so long as the volunteer was acting within the scope of the volunteer’s duties and was properly licensed, certified or authorized as required by law.

However, there are circumstances where a volunteer is not protected from liability under the Act, including:

  • if the damage is caused by the willful, reckless or criminal misconduct or gross negligence of the volunteer;
  • if the damage is caused while the volunteer is operating a vehicle, vessel or aircraft which the owner is required by law to maintain insurance;
  • if the act or omission of the volunteer which caused the damage is an offense at law; or
  • if the volunteer is unlawfully using or impaired by drugs or alcohol.

If an action is brought against the volunteer, the Act provides that the volunteer may be entitled to costs on a solicitor-and-client basis, provided the action results in no judgment against the volunteer.

Though the Act limits the liability of a volunteer, the limitation does not extend to the non-profit organization, meaning that the organization may be liable in circumstances where damage is caused by a volunteer who is personally protected under the Act. The Act expressly provides that in those circumstances, the organization does not have any right to recover against the volunteer.

The Act has been subject to minimal judicial consideration to date but has been mentioned in the context of provisions dealing with solicitor-client costs. For example, in Grimmer v Carleton Road Industries Assn., the court determined that the defendant was entitled to costs on a solicitor-client basis.

For further queries, contact David Reid, partner in the Business Group of Cox & Palmer’s Halifax Office. This article was written with the assistance of Hannah Helm, a Summer Student at Cox & Palmer.

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