Injury to a Church Volunteer, Who Pays?

Richey-Barrett Blog (12)

Steve, a hypothetical church volunteer in this example, is a longtime, trusted, and active church member. Steve helps the church in all manner of tasks, from participating in counting the weekly collection on Sunday morning to knocking off icicles on the church gutters. Recently Steve was injured on church property when he fell about six feet from a ladder, while he was changing a light bulb. The fall resulted in Steve breaking his right leg as well as a rib. He was taken to the hospital immediately and had surgery on his leg.

A few weeks later medical bills resulting from Steve’s injury at the church began arriving in Steve’s mailbox. When Steve submitted the ambulance, hospital, and surgeon/doctor bills to the church for payment, he received an unexpected surprise. The church’s Workers’ Compensation insurance policy did NOT cover Steve for any expenses related to his injuries incurred on church property, as Steve is a volunteer of the church, not an employee of the church. There are some states that cover volunteers of non-profit organizations under that particular state’s Workers’ Compensation Program, but Ohio is NOT one of them. The only volunteer coverage available under the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation involves firemen in volunteer activities. GENERALLY, THERE IS NO COVERAGE OF ANY KIND FOR VOLUNTEERS UNDER OHIO WORKERS’ COMPENSATION.

Furthermore, Steve discovered that his own medical insurance coverage is his primary coverage, NOT the church’s General Liability insurance. Steve admits his fall from the ladder was an unfortunate accident; it was not the fault of the church or anyone at the church. Only the Medical Payments section of the church’s General Liability insurance policy could be applied toward Steve’s own medical insurance deductible. Usually, the Medical Payments coverage of a church’s General Liability insurance policy is no more than $5,000.

How is Medical Payments coverage different than Workers’ Compensation coverage?

Medical Payments is a separate line of coverage included within a General Liability insurance policy. The limit of coverage under Medical Payments is usually $5,000. The insured, the church in the case of our hypothetical example, does NOT have to be liable in order for the Medical Payments coverage to be applied. The Medical Payment portion of the church’s General Liability insurance policy could be used to pay out medical (or funeral, if Steve died from injuries sustained in the fall from the ladder) expenses. Keep in mind, Medical Payments coverage can range from $0 to $25,000 sometimes it is less than $5,000.

Workers’ Compensation insurance coverage is designed to protect EMPLOYEES for an injury, accident, or sickness CAUSED BY EMPLOYMENT ACTIVITY. The EMPLOYER is also protected (except in rare cases of egregious acts by the employer) from an employee having the right to sue for injuries caused by employment activity. The EMPLOYEE does not pay a deductible or a co-payment on health care received as this is part of the Workers’ Compensation benefits. Workers’ Compensation insurance coverage also provides some coverage for an EMPLOYEE’S lost wages due to the injury, accident, or sickness CAUSED BY EMPLOYMENT ACTIVITY.

What can a church due to protect one of its most valuable assets, its volunteers? Please call your independent insurance agent to discuss your particular concerns.

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