Yesterday, as I have done just about every Wednesday this winter (and for the past few winters), I took a van full of Boys & Girls Club kids to the Geneva, New York municipal ice rink for a skate. I pick them up at the Boys & Girls Club of Geneva at 6:30, we skate till 8:15, and then I drive them home. I finish up about 9:00. I can pack about 11 kids in the large van. The kids, ages 5 through about 11, love it. These are kids who otherwise would never get a chance to skate. Most of them don’t have transportation to the rink. When Spring comes along, I take the same kids to the YMCA swimming pool. Otherwise, they wouldn’t learn to swim.
Here’s my law blog question for the day: What is my liability exposure as a volunteer? Does the law cut me any slack for being a good guy, or am I just as liable as anyone else if I accidently crash the van, or fail to properly supervise the kids, and cause them to get injured? If some of these kids and their parents were to bring a New York personal injury lawsuit against me for negligent driving or negligent supervision, what would happen to me?
I hate to admit it, but I am exposing myself to a lawsuit. The law in New York cuts me no slack at all. If I voluntarily agree to take these kids out and I negligently allow harm to befall them, their personal injury lawsuits against me will be valid. The fact that I was trying to give these kids a better life won’t count for squat!
So how do I protect myself? Two ways: First, I try to be very careful. I drive carefully, and when I am with them on the ice or at the pool, I try to watch them carefully. Second, I buy lots of insurance, just in case.
Sometimes it can be scary, though. On the trip home, some of the kids can get a little rowdy. I am never 100% sure they are keeping their seat belts on. And when I drop them off at their home, I insist on watching them actually get inside there homes before I drive off because many of them live in “iffy” neighborhoods.
The scariest thing that happened was two years ago. A 6 year-old girl, named Jacqui, who had never swum before, jumped right into the deep end of the pool. She then began flailing around, going under, and taking in water. One of the life guards was able to pull her out. When she finally spit out enough water, and calmed down enough for me to talk to her, I asked her, “Jacqui, why did you jump into the deep end if you did not know how to swim”? Her answer: “But Mr. Bersani, you don’t understand, I thought I DID know how to swim. I was so excited about going swimming for my first time that I had been practicing all week – IN MY MOTHER’S BED”.
My resonse: “The same mother who would have sued me if you drown, Jacqui!”