With budgets being finalized and the winter season approaching, association boards are again faced with the significant and sometimes unanticipated expenses associated with snow removal. In an effort to reduce these expenses, an unwise board may consider using volunteers to perform snow removal tasks around the property, such as shoveling or snow plowing sidewalks and driveways. While using volunteers to perform minor tasks (e.g. flower planting or fence painting) may benefit the community, the potential liability of using volunteers for snow removal far exceeds the monetary savings.
Allowing a volunteer to perform work on association property exposes the association to liability if the volunteer is injured. Heart attacks while hand shoveling snow are a frequent occurrence. A board attempting to save the monetary cost of shoveling sidewalks may end up penny wise but pound foolish when faced with a personal injury lawsuit filed by the family of a volunteer who suffered a heart attack while shoveling snow on the association’s sidewalk. This liability is also prevalent when the volunteer work involves potentially dangerous equipment, such as use of a snow blower. Unlike volunteering for a charitable or religious organization, an individual’s private insurance policy will generally consider that the volunteer is “working for the association,” even though they are not actually being compensated. In Ohio, private health insurance generally will not cover injuries sustained while a person is volunteering as a snow removal contractor for an association.
Volunteers can also create liability for an association by causing harm to third parties or property. Generally, an association is liable for the acts and omissions of its volunteers. As an example, if a volunteer is operating a snow blower and a stone shoots out from the snow blower and hits an individual, the association will likely be responsible for the injury.
Do not be penny wise and pound foolish. The cost of using volunteers to remove snow on association property may be far, far greater than the cost of snow removal itself.