Letting Good Deeds Go Unpunished: Volunteer Immunity Laws and Tort Deterrence


  • Horwitz is Louis and Myrtle Moskowitz Research Professor of Business and Law, University of Michigan Law School; Mead is law clerk for the Honorable David M. Lawson, U.S. District Judge for the Eastern District of Michigan.

  • We thank Jennifer Arlen, Evelyn Brody, Martin Farnham, Naomi Feldman, Marion Fremont-Smith, Brian Galle, Sam Gross, Don Herzog, James Hines, Emma Hutchinson, David Hyman, Melissa Jacoby, Martha Minow, Roberta Morris, Austin Nichols, J. J. Prescott, Jeff Rachlinski, Peter Siegelman, Eric Talley, Michael Trebilcock, Christina Whitman, Jeremy Webber, Kathy Zeiler, Benjamin Zipursky, and seminar participants at the University of British Columbia Faculty of Law, Georgetown Law School, Harvard Law School, University of Michigan Law School, University of Victoria (Economics and Public Administration), and Stanford/Yale Junior Faculty Forum. We thank Jean Roth and the National Bureau of Economic Research for data, and Jackie Julien, Lindsay Kanter, Tomislav Ladika, and the University of Michigan Law School Library for research assistance.

*Jill R. Horwitz, University of Michigan Law School, 625 S. State St., Ann Arbor, MI 48109; email: jrhorwit@umich.edu.


Does tort law deter risky behavior in individuals? We explore this question by examining the relationship between tort immunity and volunteering. During the 1980s and 1990s, nearly every state provided some degree of volunteer immunity. Congress followed with the 1997 Volunteer Protection Act. This article analyzes these acts, identifying three motivations for them: the chilling effects of tort liability, limits on liability insurance, and moral concerns. Using data from the Independent Survey's Giving and Volunteering surveys, we then identify a large and positive correlation between immunity and volunteering. We next consider the implications of the findings for tort theory and nonprofit law.