Volunteering and Professional Liability

Does professional volunteer work have to be held to the same liability as work you get paid for?

I believe in volunteering. I do not step forward in every single instance, but I live by the rule of thumb that if everyone does something, we will all be covered. I have three children. They are all involved in activities. I volunteer for a relatively time consuming position in one of their activities. The idea is that if every parent would do this, ALL of the positions will be filled in all activities. I know this doesn’t work. I know that relatively few do most of the work, but I feel satisfied that I do my part in the system.

Volunteering at work is another matter. As a registered Architect, I am held professionally liable for anything I do. This can be held to extreme examples as in giving free advice on a web site, blog or Facebook, (all of which I do). There is also legislation being presented right now to hold harmless “good Samaritan” architects immediately following a natural disaster.

Can you believe that structural engineers who were trying to ensure that accessory buildings around the World Trade Center were safe were pulled into a law suit about air quality in the days following those attacks? No, they had nothing to do with the attacks or the air quality, but that doesn’t mean they were not caught up in the lawyer’s net.

However, a more concerning example is one which I am presently involved.

A few months ago I was contacted by a teenage Boy Scout. He is working on his Eagle Scout badge. To achieve this level, the young man must perform a significant volunteer project as a service. This is usually something that is planned, paid for and built by the scout and his helpers. He was recommended to me by a family friend.

The idea was well thought out -- a gateway at a local church outdoor chapel. The city is requiring a building permit and the Scout needs an engineer or architect’s seal. This young man had already met with a local structural engineer who quoted him $3,500.

I’m not interested in throwing this engineer under the bus. I’m sure he was covering his butt in respect to his professional insurance. He probably has been burned before.

I did take the project on free of charge for this Scout. Raising three boys has made me soft when it comes to young men doing good things for people and working hard. My point here is that maybe there should also be a “good Samaritan” hold harmless clause for professional volunteer work.

I do understand the intricacies of this proposal. What if someone does get hurt? But at some point I believe that we might have to step out of our protected bubble and just help people because it is the right thing to do.


– Sheri

As Founder and Principal Architect of Springhouse Architects, Sheri’s mission is to lead Clients through the building process with the Clients in control and Springhouse as their guide, advocate and ally.  With over twenty years experience in Residential Architecture, Sheri brings knowledge and confidence to your custom home project.

Lisa Saldivar