But, “I want to volunteer!”

K.S. writes:

Dear Paul:

I want to volunteer to take care of our flower beds around the building. The board does not want me to do this for concerns about liability. Can you help me understand this position taken by our board?

Paul replies:

Dear K.S.:

I wish to commend you for taking the initiative to volunteer your time and energy for taking on the task of beautifying your property. At the same time, I wish to commend your board for being proactive and thinking about the possible issues that could arise involving volunteers. What would happen if a volunteer injured herself while performing work for the corporation? Depending on the type of injury, in most cases, nothing would happen. However, since the board’s role is to protect the corporation’s assets (property, finances) and ensure that the place is safe for everyone, it has a duty to be concerned. On the off chance that something where to occur, how would the matter be resolved if it involved a volunteer who is also a unit owner?

Unless the work was performed by a unit owner who was also an employee of the corporation, and covered by Worker’s Compensation, they may not have any other recourse but to sue the corporation for compensation and possibly damages.

Your liability insurance carrier would have to be notified and hopefully accept your claim. As you know insurance companies are not known to be overly generous. The insurance company would hire lawyers to defend you. Assuming for a moment that the corporation was not negligent, and provided a safe work environment, the matter might be settled quickly. On the other hand, if the corporation was found negligent, money will start adding up. If your insurance coverage is sufficient, it may not cost unit owners more than the deductible and a possible premium increase on the next renewal.

Then comes the very awkward part. A volunteer unit owner suing the company of which she is a shareholder. The risk of being ostracized by her neighbours who may have to pay a special assessment to cover unforeseen costs.

Please understand, I encourage people to volunteer, but I do strongly suggest that all condo boards review their insurance coverage with their broker. Does it cover volunteers? What coverage do volunteers have? An ounce of prevention and a pound of knowledge will go a long way if you ever face a difficult situation. Volunteer away! Best wishes!

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