YACHATS — Geoff Sinclair, the city of Yachats’ insurance agent representing Brown & Brown Northwest Insurance, asked the Yachats City Council at its most recent meeting why the city covers volunteers for workers’ compensation insurance. He told the council it is unusual for a city to do so.
Sinclair said with 170 public entity customers in Oregon, overwhelmingly most of them choose not to cover volunteers for workers comp, except for the board and council members. Of those, he said, 5 to 10 percent choose to cover volunteers under an excess medical policy.
“It’s OK,” he told them, adding he doesn’t mean to say the city shouldn’t.
Sinclair reported that City Manager Shannon Beaucaire told him, “Our volunteers mean the world to us, and we value them.”
Sinclair advised, “Workers compensation doesn’t have to be the only avenue for volunteers. If you have one single loss of an injured worker, that is part of a mod calculation, an average, that applies to you for three solid years.” He said any workers’ compensation losses the city has, large or small, the city will pay for as if an employee was injured.
Councilor Leslie Vaaler summarized, “History on one group, affects the rates on the other group.”
“Yes,” Sinclair confirmed. “You are all in one bucket. If you have a loss, it’s a city loss, not a volunteer loss or an employee loss.” He explained the options to council. “One is you don’t provide workers comp for volunteers. They may not understand that it’s there. They may not miss it. It may not be something the city should spend funds on.” However, he cautioned, if they get injured and the city is negligent, they can sue the city.
“You can purchase an excess medical policy for volunteers, so if they get injured while volunteering, anything their insurance doesn’t pay for, the city will cover,” Sinclair said, suggesting a way to prevent claims from volunteers from affecting the city’s compensation history, or its mod rating.
When asked by Councilor Jim Tooke about policy costs, Sinclair said Yachats pays $27,000 total for workers’ compensation for the city, employees, volunteers and city council all included together. A simple broken leg claim could be $50,000. For more serious claims, he said, “You could be paying $30,000 or $40,000 for a few years if you have one or two or three volunteer losses.”
Sinclair didn’t have an actual quote for the city but estimated a $25,000 medical excess policy would cost $2,000. The workers’ comp for volunteers costs $1,200 to $1,500, but he reiterated the issue isn’t just the policy cost, but the potential cost to workers’ compensation insurance in general in the event of a claim.
Vaaler followed up by asking if there had been a recent claim by a volunteer.
“We had one, it was a (volunteer) librarian.” Beaucaire responded. And it did affect the city’s premiums for three years as Sinclair described, she confirmed.
Vaaler also asked Sinclair if the city had liability insurance.
“Yes,” Sinclair responded. “It would defend you.”
The issue of workers’ compensation was placed on the agenda for the first meeting in August, when council will be provided with premium breakdowns. At that time, the council will be provided with excess medical policies and resume discussion of the issue of workers’ compensation insurance for city volunteers.