16 Oct 2018

Church Sued For Injuries Sustained During Church Picnic

Christine Bové

We live in a time when churches in the United States are sued more than ever. A good portion of those lawsuits involve members being injured during church services or activities. Because of this tendency, the Church should be more vigilant than ever at caring for its members. 

In the New Jersey court case John vs. St. Thomas Church, St. Thomas Church won the lawsuit after a member sustained injuries during their church picnic. 

This kind of scenario is not uncommon. Churches host events, conferences, concerts, food drives, picnics, and other types of gatherings regularly. There have been countless stories of people incurring injuries during their time at a church’s event or service and then filing a lawsuit to cover the injuries sustained.

Depending on the policies and procedures each church had in place prior to those events, each lawsuit ended with a different outcome. 

A New Jersey Court Case: John vs. St. Thomas Church

Mr. John participated in the church picnic, having a great time with friends and enjoying the competitive activities. During his second round of tug-of-war, his team collided as the rope was released, giving Mr. John several serious injuries. 

After undergoing multiple surgeries, Mr. John filed a lawsuit against the church on the basis of negligence of the event leadership. The court decided against Mr. John’s claim, stating that he assumed the risk involved with the game of tug-of-war.

Mr. John appealed the case, stating that because of the extra rules the pastor imposed on the game (the pastor told everyone to pull and then suddenly release the rope), his assumed risk of a normal tug-of-war game was voided, and the new risk was substantially increased. 

The court again dismissed the case on the following basis:

By voluntarily proceeding to encounter a known or obvious danger, the invitee is deemed to have agreed to accept the risk and to undertake to look out for himself. It is precisely because the invitee assumes the risk of injury from obvious and avoidable dangers that the possessor owes the invitee no duty to take measures to alleviate those dangers…

The court ultimately ruled that because it was a known sporting event with understood risks of possible injury involved, and the invitee willingly participated, the church was spared from the responsibility of the situation. The court decided that the responsibility remained with Mr. John. 

What is “assumed the risk?”

“Assumed the risk,” in layman’s terms, can be defined as having a base knowledge of activities that are generally known to cause injuries or locations that could be potentially dangerous; it operates on someone knowing the possible dangers involved ahead of time and then still actively choosing to partake. 

In Mr. John’s case, tug-of-war was known to be a “roughhousing”activity in which injuries could occur. Mr. John not only willingly participated in one round of the game but in two rounds. By the second round, he was well familiar with the game, therefore falling under the “assumed the risks” definition. 

While his injuries were regrettable, the church was determined to avoid liability for his injuries. 

What does this mean for the Church?

In most instances, if a church creates environments involving physical activities, and if the physical activities are common knowledge (eg. Tug-of-war at a church picnic), then typically a church is not liable for injuries sustained. This is based on the “assumed risk” doctrine. 

While this conclusion may come as a relief to some pastors, there is still a warning of caution for the protection of individuals and the organization. Every case is not guaranteed to be in favor of the church. 

While no church intentionally creates events or moments that would cause injury, there are still cases of people incurring injuries at such events resulting in the church being sued. What this means for the Church is that it is best to create policies and procedures that will protect it. 

Some policies and procedures that a church should implement are:

  • Medical policies and procedures for sustained injuries on church premises
  • Medical reimbursement policies and procedures
  • Altar ministry policies
  • Liability release forms and procedures 
  • Incident and accident reports
  • Consent forms

How the Church can Prepare

It is in the best interest of every ministry to develop policies and procedures that take care of individuals and protect the organization at the time of an injury. Each case is different, so it is important to cover all areas making sure all parties are well taken care of and well informed of possible risks involved. 

One way a church can best care for individuals at events is to have readily available liability release forms.

These forms educate about potential risks involved in an event allowing the individual to determine whether he or she wants to participate or not. Release forms also hold individuals accountable should something go awry. If an individual proceeded to sue a church, the form provides physical documentation of the consent of the individual. 

With these established policies and procedures in place, both parties are educated and protected. 

Need a liability release Form? Call us today and we will send you one for free.

Protect what is entrusted to you

You have been entrusted to care for your church or ministry and the people involved. It is of the utmost importance to make sure you have direct communication, clear expectations, and policies implemented to protect all parties. 

You never desire that someone gets hurt at an event or service, but as pastors, you need to prepare for such possibilities. One way of securing better protection for the church and its members is by implementing correct policies and procedures.

Do you have what is needed to protect your members and your church? 

Call us today at 877-494-4655 to talk to one of our church planting specialists. They can answer any questions or concerns you may have. 

Please feel free to comment. We always appreciate good dialogue. However, we do moderate each comment to ensure that it is on topic and not derogatory to other participants. We ask that you keep your comments brief and pertinent to the topic so that others may benefit.

Raul Rivera

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