Who is liable if church volunteers are using their own private vehicle to transport kids to and from Bible Study each week?
In most cases when there is a vehicle accident there are liability issues for both the volunteer driver and the church or organization for which they were driving. Liability is not a pre-determined formula, but depends on the legal examination and determination of what happened and who is found to be negligent or at fault.
When a young person is under the care or supervision of a church volunteer, that volunteer has the responsibility to make decisions about safety and to avoid danger as a reasonable and prudent person would do. An important consideration in establishing negligence is whether the accident was caused by conditions that were foreseeable and could have been avoided by taking necessary precautions.
Volunteer drivers and local church/youth organizations can anticipate liability issues and prepare for them. Most often the person who owns and operates the vehicle involved in the accident will be the primary focus of the liability. In most states it is important for volunteers using their vehicle to transport young people to carry at least $100,000/$300,000 liability coverage plus a personal liability umbrella policy.
Obviously the increased insurance coverage means higher premiums for the volunteer on their personal vehicle. Many local churches and organizations now require written proof of a specified amount or liability insurance from volunteers who will be driving vehicles as part of their volunteer application process.
Another important way to prepare for liability issues is for the volunteer driver to agree to a written set of safety standards and follow them when they operate their vehicle for the youth programs (i.e. obeying all traffic laws especially speed limits, not using mobile phones while driving, mandatory use of seat belts for all passengers, etc.).
The liability issues the church or organization faces center on the selection/approval of volunteer drivers and the safety standards required and enforced for these drivers.
The church or organization is wise to select and approve volunteer drivers on the basis of a written policy standard that specifically addresses age, driving record, personal insurance coverage and agreement to safe driving standards. Paperwork showing verification (including background checks from DMV) for each volunteer is the minimum level of protection a church should be able to produce in a liability matter.
The church or organization can also prepare for liability issues by informing parents of who is driving their kids and the safety standards required. Parents can be asked to give permission for their young person to be transported to the church activities by a volunteer driver. Records of these meetings or permission slips should be kept on file.
Specific questions on volunteer and organizational liability should be researched locally with legal and insurance professionals who advise the church or organization.