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Torrey: Article Focuses on Injuries to Hospital Volunteers

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In a new, practical, article — falling into the category of risk management counseling — the authors identify and explain the federal statutory and regulatory authorities that govern hospital planning for emergency conditions, with a focus on the thorny issue of how such institutions are to address injury or death sustained by volunteer workers. 

David B. Torrey

David B. Torrey

Workers’ compensation and tort immunity are themes throughout Medical Volunteers During Pandemics, Disasters, and Other Emergencies: Management Best Practices, by John I. Winn, Seth Chatfield and Kevin H. McGovern.

The authors devote a special part of the article to workers’ compensation coverage considerations. The authors, no surprise, identify a variety of state laws on workers’ compensation and volunteers that injects uncertainty into the coverage analysis. In this regard, some states can be identified as providing coverage for volunteers, while others cannot. 

Meanwhile, a hospital’s attempt to require a “volunteer liability release” is fraught with similar uncertainty: “Consideration [of] the use of volunteer liability releases would require a detailed analysis of the host state’s statutory and case law.”

The authors review the National Incident Management System (NIMS), a project of FEMA which, among other things, generally establishes that, in an emergency where workers are dispatched from a foreign state into the area of the emergency, the “sending state’s workers’ compensation provisions, as well as tort liability statutes, generally cover deployed personnel.” These and related plans have a shortcoming, however, in the lack of provisions for utilization of private sector volunteers.

The authors do identify a law, the Uniform Emergency Volunteer Health Practitioners Act, drafted “to address the complexity of workers’ compensation for cross-border volunteer health care practitioners,” but only 18 states and the District of Columbia have adopted its provisions.  

The authors strongly advocate that hospitals maintain emergency plans that address comprehensively the issue of volunteers. “Preparation for worst-case scenarios,” they admonish, “involves consideration of all reasonable measures to mitigate the risk that responding volunteers may harm others ... or injure themselves.” 

The article concludes with a list of 18 volunteer-intensive hard recommendations/best practices for hospitals to consider in preparing or amending their emergency plans. One of these is inclusion in the hospital’s emergency volunteer handbook of an explanation of “whether (or which) volunteers will be covered by workers’ compensation or commercial insurance.”    

David B. Torrey is adjunct professor of law at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law and a workers’ compensation judge with the Pennsylvania Department of Labor & Industry. This entry is republished from the Workers' Compensation Law Professors blog, with permission.

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