I went to a really interesting session this afternoon at the PCMA Annual Meeting called "The Law of Doing Good Things." Led by one of my favorite meeting industry attorneys/professors Tyra Hilliard, it was all about how being a good Samaritan can be a good thing, and how it can sometimes get you in legal hot water.
Tyra gave us three scenarios: do you help a slip-and-fall victim?; how do you donate leftover food safely, legally speaking; and what your liability might be if a volunteer at an activity accidentally bops another volunteer with a piece of wood.
For the first scenario, she explained that each state has its own version of a Good Samaritan law, and it behooves the cautious planner to learn what their meeting locale's might include. In Washington, for example, it's OK to help someone who's hurt as long as you're not compensated for helping them; and you're giving emergency care or taking them to get emergency care.
But, as she explained, the answer to everything in the law is, "It depends." A good lawyer good try to nail you anyway, based on exemptions to the law or just a skewed interpretation of what happened. "There's reality and there's the law, and they often don't have much to do with each other," she said, which I thought was a great, if all-too-true, statement.
In the second scenario about whether someone could donate food not used at the meeting, Tyra said, "Facilities often just say no because they don't know what they can do." She added that they have no legal obligation to donate, so you may have to educate them on things like America's Second Harvest, a national network that can find local places that will accept donated food. As to the law, there's the federal Food Donation Act, which says you won't be held criminally liable for the donation of "an apparently fit grocery product donated in good faith to needy individuals." Of course, what constitutes "apparently fit" needs to be hammered out.
Some things planners can do to educate facilities about food donation is to include language about it in your contracts, attach copies of the law, and be prepared to answer questions. Copies of the law are available here.
For the bopping incident, there is some protection from the Volunteer Protection Act, but it is very limited in scope (just to non-profits) and has a bunch of other exceptions.
So, be careful out there, but don't let it stop you from doing the right thing.
Oh, and get some insurance. Can't hurt.