Volunteers’ IRAs May Not Be Seized to Satisfy a Judgment

Not all of a volunteer’s personal assets may be available to pay for damages.

Church Law and Tax 1997-05-01

Volunteer Workers-Personal Liability

Key point. Volunteer workers are personally liable for acts of sexual molestation they commit in the course of their duties. However, their IRAs and pension funds may not be accessible to satisfy a judgment or verdict.

A New Jersey court ruled that the IRA account of a volunteer worker who molested a child could not be seized to satisfy a jury verdict against him. The volunteer served as a swimming instructor for a public elementary school. Following a swimming lesson an 8-year-old girl complained that the instructor had touched her in the vaginal area. As a result of this incident the instructor was convicted of child molestation and was sued in a civil lawsuit by the girl’s parents. A jury returned a verdict of $325,000. The family’s attorney attempted to seize the volunteer’s IRA account in an effort to satisfy the verdict. A court ruled that the IRA account could not be used to satisfy the verdict. It based its ruling on a state law that makes “trust funds” exempt from the reach of creditors. The court concluded that IRA accounts are a form of trust fund.

Application. This case illustrates the personal hardship that volunteers may suffer if they injure persons in the course of their duties. A church’s insurance policy may not cover verdicts or judgments finding the volunteer liable for monetary damages, meaning that the volunteer will be personally responsible to pay the damages. As this case illustrates, not all of a volunteer’s personal assets may be available to pay for such damages. In some cases, IRA accounts will not be available. C.P. v. Piscataway Township, 681 A.2d 105 (N.J. Super. 1996 ). [Church Officers, Directors, and Trustees, Church Members]

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