Order Code RS21933
Updated September 15, 2004
CRS Report for Congress
Received through the CRS Web
“Good Samaritan” Tort Reform:
Three House Bills
American Law Division
On September 8, 2004, the House Committee on the Judiciary ordered to be
reported three 108th Congress tort reform bills: the Volunteer Pilot Organization
Protection Act (H.R. 1084), the Good Samaritan Firefighter Assistance Act of 2003
(H.R. 1787), and the Nonprofit Athletic Organization Protection Act of 2003 (H.R.
3369). On September 14, the House passed H.R. 1084 and H.R. 1787, but failed to pass
H.R. 3369. Tort law is primarily state law, and federal tort reform bills such as these are
generally designed to limit liability under state tort law.
The Volunteer Pilot Organization Protection Act (H.R. 1084) would amend the
Volunteer Protection Act of 1997.1 The VPA provides immunity for ordinary negligence
to volunteers of nonprofit organizations or governmental entities acting within the scope
of their responsibilities, provided that, “if appropriate or required, the volunteer was
properly licensed, certified, or authorized by the appropriate authorities.” The immunity
does not apply to “willful or criminal conduct, gross negligence, reckless misconduct, or
a conscious, flagrant indifference to the rights or safety of the individual harmed by the
volunteer.” It also does not apply to harm “caused by a volunteer operating a motor
vehicle, vessel, aircraft, or other vehicle for which the State requires the operator or the
owner of the vehicle craft, or vessel to — (A) possess an operator’s license; or (B)
H.R. 1084 would create an exception to this “aircraft” exception. It would make the
VPA apply if “the harm was caused by a volunteer of a nonprofit volunteer pilot
organization that flies for public benefit, while the volunteer was flying in furtherance of
the purpose of the organization and was operating an aircraft for which the volunteer was
properly licensed and individually insured.”
42 U.S.C. §§ 14501-14505. For additional information on the VPA, see CRS Report 97-490.
Congressional Research Service ˜ The Library of Congress
The VPA also does not apply to nonprofit organizations or governmental entities
themselves; they may be held vicariously liable for the negligence of their volunteers,
even if volunteers are immune. H.R. 1084 would create an exception to this provision
too. It would provide that “a nonprofit volunteer pilot organization that flies for public
benefit, and the staff, mission coordinators, officers, and directors (whether volunteers or
otherwise) of such organization or referring agency of such organization, shall not be
liable with respect to harm caused to any person by a volunteer of such organization,
while the volunteer is flying in furtherance of the purpose of the organization and was
operating an aircraft for which the volunteer was properly licensed and has certified to
such organization that such volunteer has in force individually insurance for operating
The VPA also eliminates joint and several liability for noneconomic damages with
respect to volunteers’ work for nonprofit organizations and governmental entities, and
allows punitive damages only where the plaintiff establishes “by clear and convincing
evidence that the harm was proximately caused by an action of such volunteer which
constitutes willful or criminal misconduct, or a conscious, flagrant indifference to the
rights or safety of the individual harmed.”2 These provisions would not be amended by
H.R. 1084, and thus would benefit the volunteer pilots and organizations (and their staffs,
etc.) to which the bill would extend the VPA’s protection.
The VPA does not prevent states from granting volunteers additional protection from
liability, and it allows any state to enact a statute declaring the VPA inapplicable in the
The reported version of H.R. 1084, which the House passed, would direct the
Attorney General to study the availability of insurance for nonprofit volunteer pilot
The Good Samaritan Firefighter Assistance Act of 2003 (H.R. 1787) would not
amend any existing federal law, but would provide simply that “[a] person who donates
fire control or fire rescue equipment to a volunteer fire company shall not be liable for
civil damages under any State or Federal law for personal injuries, property damage or
loss, or death proximately caused by the equipment after the donation.” This immunity
would not apply if a donor exercised gross negligence or intentional misconduct, and
would not apply if the donor is the manufacturer of the equipment.
Eliminating joint and several liability means that, if more than one defendant is found liable,
then each is liable only in proportion to its percentage of responsibility for the harm. The VPA
eliminates joint and several liability only for noneconomic damages, which refer to pain and
suffering and other nonpecuniary losses. Thus, the VPA does not change state law to the extent
that state law allows joint and several liability for economic damages, such as medical costs, lost
wages, etc. With joint and several liability, each defendant who is found responsible is liable for
100 percent of the damages, though the plaintiff may not recover more than once.
H.Rept. 108-679, 108th Cong., 2d Sess. (Sept. 13, 2004).
H.R. 1787 would not prevent states from granting donors additional protection from
The reported version of H.R. 1787, which the House passed, would direct the
Attorney General to conduct a state-by-state review of the donation of firefighter
equipment to volunteer firefighter companies during the five-year period ending on the
date of enactment of the bill. The study shall include, for each state, the most effective
way to fund firefighter companies.4
The Nonprofit Athletic Organization Protection Act of 2003 (H.R. 3369) would also
not amend any existing federal law. It would provide that a nonprofit athletic
organization would not be liable for harm caused in the adoption of rules for sanctioned
or approved athletic competitions or practices if the nonprofit athletic organization (1)
was acting within the scope of its duties and (2) was, if required, properly licensed,
certified, or authorized for the competition or practice in the state in which the harm
occurred or where the competition or practice was undertaken. This immunity would not
apply, however, if “the harm was caused by willful or criminal misconduct, gross
negligence, or reckless misconduct on the part of the nonprofit athletic association.”
H.R. 3369 would not preempt state laws that (1) require a nonprofit athletic
organization to adhere to risk management procedures, including mandatory training of
its employees, agents, or volunteers, (2) make a nonprofit athletic organization liable for
the acts or omissions of its employees, agents, and volunteers to the same extent as an
employer is liable for the acts or omissions of its employees, or (3) make a limitation of
liability inapplicable if a civil action was brought by an officer of a state or local
government pursuant to state or local law.
H.R. 3369 would not prevent states from granting nonprofit athletic organizations
additional protection from liability.
The reported version of H.R. 3369 contained no amendments.5
Pros and Cons
Supporters of the three House bills have reportedly said that the bills are needed to
ensure that people are willing to volunteer for the activities that the bills cover. They also
claim that nonprofit volunteer pilot organizations are operating without insurance
coverage because of rising premiums.6
H.Rept. 108-680, 108th Cong., 2d Sess. (Sept. 13, 2004).
H.Rept. 108-681, 108th Cong., 2d Sess. (Sept. 13, 2004).
CQ Today (Sept. 9, 2004), p. 10.
Others, however, have questioned whether there is a need for action. They also
reportedly expressed concern that H.R. 3369 might shield nonprofit athletic groups from
lawsuits on issues such as civil rights and insurance disputes.7
The Congressional Research Service (CRS) is a federal legislative branch agency, housed inside the
Library of Congress, charged with providing the United States Congress non-partisan advice on
issues that may come before Congress.
EveryCRSReport.com republishes CRS reports that are available to all Congressional staff. The
reports are not classified, and Members of Congress routinely make individual reports available to
Prior to our republication, we redacted names, phone numbers and email addresses of analysts
who produced the reports. We also added this page to the report. We have not intentionally made
any other changes to any report published on EveryCRSReport.com.
CRS reports, as a work of the United States government, are not subject to copyright protection in
the United States. Any CRS report may be reproduced and distributed in its entirety without
permission from CRS. However, as a CRS report may include copyrighted images or material from a
third party, you may need to obtain permission of the copyright holder if you wish to copy or
otherwise use copyrighted material.
Information in a CRS report should not be relied upon for purposes other than public
understanding of information that has been provided by CRS to members of Congress in
connection with CRS' institutional role.
EveryCRSReport.com is not a government website and is not affiliated with CRS. We do not claim
copyright on any CRS report we have republished.