Are injured volunteers eligible for workers’ compensation benefits?

Within the recent tragedy of the bombing near the finish line of the Boston Marathon, there are stories of selfless acts by volunteers that saved countless lives. The initial estimates of 170 injured have increased sharply to more than 280 as more people seek treatment for injuries they thought were minor - some of these people were likely volunteers who rushed to help others. Many have praised the response of volunteers, emergency responders and race participants for quick thinking in dealing with injuries and sending the injured to the right hospitals. Yet this raises the question: when a volunteer rushes to aid others and suffers an injury are there benefits available? Does workers' compensation insurance cover volunteers similar to employees? Not all volunteers will find they have access to workers' compensation benefits, which generally apply for employees who suffer work-related injuries in the course of employment. But organizations, such as non-profits, who depend on volunteers to run events and provide services should likely consider these individuals as "workers." Varying state law will determine who needs coverage.

Types of Pennsylvania volunteers covered

In Pennsylvania, volunteers generally are not entitled to workers' compensation benefits. However, several types of volunteers are included in the definition of "employe" under state law. These include:
  • Volunteer firefighters, who suffer injury in the course of their duties
  • Members of a volunteer ambulance corps or rescue and lifesaving squads set up by a municipality
  • Volunteers working for the State Parks and Forests Program or forest firefighters
  • Members who volunteer with a hazardous materials response team
Work-related scars or burns suffered by a volunteer firefighter would qualify for workers' compensation benefits if the injury resulted in a loss of earning power. When a volunteer injury occurs, the wage calculation must at least be equal to the statewide average weekly wage. The policy is a financial safeguard for those who volunteer their time and effort serving the public. In addition, employees who prevent a crime or provide first aid, emergency care or rescue at the scene of an emergency and suffer injury while in the course of employment may also be covered. After an injury suffered while volunteering, it may not be clear whether any benefits are available to cover lost wages during the time needed to recuperate. A Pennsylvania workers' compensation attorney can advise on whether workers' compensation benefits may be available based on the unique circumstances of your case.
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