Behold, I Do A New
by Pat Harrison
Are You Ready For The Coming
by Lonnie Bouldin
Protecting Yourself In A
by Rick Schaber
Why Isn't God Doing Anything
by Stephen Rathod
Protecting Yourself In A Litigious World
Yes, Pastor, You Can Be
Years ago, churches did not face the risk of being
sued. They enjoyed charitable immunity, meaning their assets were
comparable to a trust fund and could not be used for purposes other than
those intended by the donors. Since it was not the intent of donors to
have assets used to pay liability awards, churches were immune from paying
Today, the doctrine of charitable immunity is absent in most
states and of very limited scope in others. Large court awards against
churches attest to their equal status in today's legal arena.
church might have one or more employees clergy, secretaries,
teachers, custodians, organists, coaches, administrators, and counselors.
Many churches also have a large number of volunteers tackling a variety of
Volunteer workers are one of your church's greatest assets
when used properly. Otherwise, they become a legal liability.
are not responsible for paying your volunteers, but you are responsible
for their actions and the consequences of those actions. An employer
(church) can be held vicariously liable for the actions of its employees
when they're acting within the scope of their duties. This also is true
regarding volunteers, whether they are helping clean the church or
watching children during services.
However, three important
differences make the exposure from volunteers even greater than from
1. In most states, workers' compensation laws do not
protect volunteer workers. If seriously injured, volunteers must resort to
the civil justice system for compensation.
2. The number of
volunteer workers, and their total hours working, frequently exceeds those
of paid employees.
3. Volunteer workers are often undertrained,
under-skilled, and under- equipped for the duties they
Here are a few actual claims involving volunteer
· A worker who was painting from scaffolding fell and hit
his head. He lapsed into a coma.
· A volunteer suffered extensive
injuries and weeks of lost income when he fell from a ladder while helping
with a church addition.
· An aspiring pianist cut off several
fingers with a table saw while helping with a church remodeling
The following guidelines help reduce the liability
exposure involving volunteers:
· Always select a capable person for
the task at hand.
· Hire a professional for dangerous or
technically difficult jobs, such as plumbing, electrical, and roof or
· Provide adequate, well maintained tools and
· Supervisors should let each volunteer know what is
expected of them.
· Be very selective of those who will work with
Many lawsuits have been filed against churches for sexual
misconduct and sexual molestation committed by clergy, employees,
counselors, and volunteers. These suits generally allege that churches
were negligent in the following:
· Hiring the offender, including
· Supervising the children.
· Failing to take
proper action when molestation is suspected or reported.
following cases led to legal action against churches:
· Over a long
period of time, a married male teacher abused several young boys in class.
He had been fired from three other schools for similar offenses. A check
of references, which was not made, might have revealed this
· While employed by the church, a camp counselor molested
an 8-year-old girl. The lawsuit alleged that the church knew of, but
disregarded, a report regarding a similar event involving the counselor.
The suit also stated that the church failed to investigate the counselor's
qualifications prior to hiring him and that it took no action after
learning of this molestation.
· A pastor molested nine young boys
at one church. Investigations revealed that church officials were aware of
an incident at a previous church and transferred the pastor because of
· Three students sexually abused another student in an
unattended room during school hours.
Steps to reduce the chances of
sexual abuse occurring at your church include stringent screening of
prospective employees and volunteer workers, well-defined supervisory
guidelines, educational programs, and a plan of action to follow when
sexual abuse is suspected or reported.
It is a strong
recommendation that churches have background checks performed on all
employees and volunteers. These screenings should be done on a national
basis and not only through local law enforcement agencies. Numerous
agencies throughout the United States provide this service.
also are at risk when counseling. Avoid circumstances that could lead to
legitimate or false accusations.
The church's role when an incident occurs
If an accident or other incident does occur and you
feel there is even a remote chance of legal action, notify your insurance
company. Don't wait until a lawsuit is filed, and do not decide that your
insurance company will or will not cover it. Waiting to notify your
insurance company wastes valuable investigation time.
anyone or any organization connected with an incident will be named in a
lawsuit. Your insurance policy might provide coverage for your church and
anyone acting on its behalf,
such as your board, employees and
volunteers. Nevertheless, individuals involved also should notify their
personal insurance companies.
Cooperate fully with your insurance
company during the investigation and during all other stages of the
proceedings. Most insurance policies require cooperation of the insured,
and failure to comply can void coverage.
No matter how much
sympathy you have for the injured person or how responsible you feel for
the injury, do not encourage the injured party to sue you, and do not make
statements of "guilt" or financial offers. You could be accepting
responsibility and liability when the responsibility and
elsewhere. Encouraging legal action or making offers on your own might be
in violation of your insurance policy. Furthermore, it is possible that
the suit you encourage is not covered by insurance or might result in a
judgment greater than your policy limit.
The civil justice system
in the United States is an adversary system. Your church and the party
suing your church become opponents in the litigation process. Testimony
from either side is likely to create hard feelings.
process can be a long, distracting, and emotionally draining process for
both sides. For cases that are tried in court, the process can take from
one to five years.
When an accident or
incident is reported, your insurance company will investigate and
determine whether coverage is applicable and prepare a course of
Where coverage is applicable, the company will form an
evaluation as to the likelihood of your church being found negligent by a
jury in a court of law. Based on research of other similar cases, the
company also will estimate the value of the casethe amount a jury is
likely to award if your church is found liable.
Based on the
findings, your insurance company will decide to fight the case in court or
make an out-of-court settlement offer. Because the trial process is
painful and costly for both sides, approximately 95 percent of all
lawsuits are settled out of court.
Finally, it is the insurance
company's respon-sibility to pay the settlement (or court award)
legal costs, up to the policy limit, in covered claims.
About The Author
Rick Schaber is an advertising/communications specialist
with Church Mutual Insurance Company based in Merrill, Wisconsin. If you
have any questions regarding the article, you can call Rick at
715-539-4587 or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Church Mutual
insures more than 72,000 churches and religious-related institutions in
the United States.