Although the Administration strongly supports national and community service
and volunteerism, it opposes S. 543.
The President has a deep commitment to volunteer and service activities and
supports efforts to encourage Americans to engage in these activities. The
Administration will work with Congress on proposals that, while respecting
state law, help provide reasonable liability protection to volunteers involved
in the delivery of needed services.
S. 543 is not such a bill. Without any hearings demonstrating the inadequacy
of state law in this area, S. 543 effects a sweeping preemption of state law in
cases involving "non-profit organizations" and "volunteers." The
over-broad definitions in the bill -- which might apply to hate groups, street
gangs, or violent militia -- make this takeover of state law potentially
As with broader tort reform measures, the Administration is also troubled by
the legislation's one-way preemption -- state laws would be preempted if they
favor plaintiffs, but not if they favor defendants -- and by Section 5 of the
Bill, which would totally abolish joint-and-several liability for noneconomic
damages (e.g., pain and suffering). This provision would unfairly discriminate
against the most vulnerable members of our society -- the elderly, the poor,
children, and nonworking women -- whose injuries often involve mostly
noneconomic losses. Noneconomic damages are as important to victims as
economic damages and must not be relegated to second-class status.