Recent Developments

Issues that affect ministers and churches
Personal Injuries - Part 2
On Church Property or During Church Activities

Can a church be sued by the parents of a 17-year-old boy who was injured severely in a church van accident? Yes, ruled the Arizona Supreme Court. The boy was injured when a church van in which he was a passenger accidentally drove off the road and overturned. Among other things, his back was broken in two places requiring two 20-inch steel rods to be permanently inserted in his back. He could walk with difficulty, was incontinent, and could not stoop, squat, bend, sit, or stand for extended periods of time. The boy's parents sued the church on the basis of two theories of liability—"negligent infliction of emotional distress" and "loss of consortium." The court rejected the first claim since it requires that a parent witness an injury to a closely-related person. However, the court ruled that the parents could recover damages for "loss of consortium," which it defined as "a loss of capacity to exchange love, affection, society, companionship, comfort, care and moral support." The court concluded that parents can sue a church for loss of a child's consortium if "the child suffers a severe, permanent and disabling injury that substantially interferes with the child's capacity to interact with his parents in a normally gratifying way." Note that the parents' loss of consortium claim was independent from their child's claim for recovery for his own damages. In summary, injuries to a child may result in a recovery not only by the child, but also by his or her the parents. Pierce v. Casas Adobes Baptist Church, 782 P.2d 1162 (Ariz. 1989).

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Posted: May 1, 1990
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