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What happens when volunteer is accused of assault

What happens when volunteer is accused of assault

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When a volunteer tutor was accused of inappropriately touching a child, we immediately reported to our insurance company. The insurance company, in turn, directed us to have the volunteer contact his homeowner’s insurance company. The volunteer refused. He was mortified that he had been accused, claimed his innocence, and was not about to report this to an insurance representative who knew him personally. The police, who investigated, found no evidence of a crime and did not file any charges. We ordered all volunteers removed from the school; however, all but this one volunteer were almost immediately asked back. All volunteers had clearances on file. All volunteers received pre-tutoring training. Tutoring was conducted in a common area with multiple people present. In the meantime, the attorneys from our insurance company hounded us for details. They asked for everything we knew, even though hearsay. They kept brewing up the situation. Our volunteer did not want to speak to them. Would you please comment on the interactions between our insurance company and the volunteer’s personal insurance? What if, as in this case, the volunteer refuses to report and “activate” his own insurance coverage?—By email.

An accusation such as this, particularly in today’s climate, is obviously serious and must be investigated seriously. But your reaction suggests that your volunteers are not fully part of your team and are being treated as something akin to second-class citizens.

What would you have done if the accused had been a regular teacher?  Would you have suspended the entire staff?  If not, why did you remove all of the volunteers?  Obviously you want to suspend the accused during the investigation, but why remove everybody else—as if they were all culpable or couldn’t be trusted—and disrupt your program entirely?

With regard to your insurance, you have promptly reported and generally cooperated in the investigation.  You need to cooperate with the carrier’s investigation or you could find yourself without coverage.  Your volunteer, however mortified he may be, should also report to his carrier.  Failure to report could cause him to lose any coverage that he may have.

You should point that out to him that if a claim is filed you will have a conflict of interest.  You will claim that you did everything possible to control the risk of a situation such as this and that if he did what was alleged, it was an unauthorized act for which he would be solely liable.  Even if your insurance generally protects volunteers, that type of conduct is probably not covered or may be denied for lack of cooperation.  It is much better to report and cooperate now than to face that huge financial risk at a later time.  It is his choice, but if he refuses and is denied coverage under his own policy, it could also hurt you because there could be a smaller pot with which to make a settlement if a claim is actually brought.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Comments

I am sending this on to a number of clients. I particularly liked the analogy about firing all of the teachers with removing all of the volunteers. Terrific as always. --C.W. via email

The missing part of this narrative is what happened independent of the insurance company.  As you said, this is a serious allegation which can impugn someone's reputation if handled inappropriately - even if the person is found to be completely innocent.  The liability issues are real, but not as important as the experience of the child and the accused.  The narrative seems to be missing key pieces. --R.M. via email

This story is so over the top.  Years ago, as a young soccer coach, I recruited kids in the neighborhood for my team.  A mother called the police on me, because she thought I seemed too interested in kids. Months later I was at a model-airplane demo where the instructor had his little girl. While he gassed the engine and started the engine, I held her lightly by the wrist to keep her from the propeller.  As fate would have it, the neighborhood mother was in the crowd and once again complained.  You know, this volunteer in your story is probably just a nice guy who likes to press the flesh.  He has now learned not to do that with adult volunteers in the area.  The school should expel the troublemaker, not the volunteer. --D.W. via email

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