Wilson Center’s Science & Technology Innovation Program

Calling for “Backup” – Indemnification for Digital Volunteers

In Commons Lab, Disaster Management, Guest Blogger, Technology and the Law on November 7, 2012 at 11:59 am

Editor’s note: This guest blog is by Edward S. Robson, Esq.

In the past I have written about the tort liability that digital volunteers face when making responses.  In addition to a number of other strategies, one method for reducing liability is to obtain indemnification from the governmental agency or NGO requesting the services of the digital volunteers.

First, a few words about indemnification: This means to require a requestor to pay any expenses or awards associated with the claims brought against digital volunteers as a result of their work for the requesting party.  If a member of a digital volunteer group negligently released information causing a disaster victim to be injured, the requesting agency would be contractually required to pay attorney’s fees incurred in defense, or any awards.  An indemnification agreement would not necessarily cover all conduct of digital volunteers, including acts of gross negligence or recklessness.

To obtain indemnification, groups need an agreement with the party requesting service.  The agreement need not be actively negotiated but could be contained in an online activation request.  The acceptance of terms and conditions, including acceptance of indemnification, would be a prerequisite for submission of an activation request.

Many groups are developing activation protocols or criteria for determining which calls for assistance they will answer.  The willingness of a requestor to indemnify a group and its members seems a logical criterion for separating the sometimes overwhelming requests for help.  It could provide a layer of confidence for digital volunteers and encourage action.

The indemnification resembles a form of private insurance, relying on the financial wherewithal of the indemnifying party.  If a requestor does not have the funds to defend or otherwise pay the costs associated with an action against digital volunteers, indemnification is meaningless.  This may have the practical effect of limiting indemnification except in cases where the requestor is a well-established NGO or government agency.

Nevertheless, obtaining indemnification should be standard for digital volunteers.  It costs very little to create and may provide significant protection in the event of a claim.  It is only fair that a well-established NGO or government agency requesting the services of digital volunteers assume some of the risk.

About the author:

Edward S. Robson, Esq., an attorney with Robson & Robson and represents volunteer fire and ambulance companies in a variety of matters. He can be reached at erobson [at] robsonlaw [dot] com or via www.robsonlaw.com.


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  1. [...] To read a follow up blog post by the author, visit the Commons Lab Blog “Calling for Backup – Indemnification for Digital Volunteers (November … [...]

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