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Denominations' Liability for Injuries Occurring on Church Property
Who is liable when someone is injured on church property?

A Pennsylvania court addressed the issue of a denomination's liability for an injury occurring on an affiliated church's property. A young child was injured in 1984 when a tombstone fell on her in a cemetery owned by a Lutheran church. The child's parents sued the Lutheran Church in America (LCA) along with the Central Pennsylvania Synod of the Lutheran Church in America. The parents claimed that the LCA and Synod were legally responsible for the injury since the church that owned the cemetery had closed in 1971 and title to its assets had reverted to the LCA and Synod. As owners of the property, the LCA and Synod were responsible for the child's injuries on the basis of their "negligent maintenance" of the cemetery. The parents relied on the following paragraph in the LCA Constitution (and a similar paragraph in the Synod Constitution):

A synod may declare a congregation within its jurisdiction defunct if such congregation has disbanded, or it has ceased to maintain religious services according to the tenets and usages of the Lutheran Church, or if its membership has so diminished in numbers of financial strength as to render it impractical for such congregation to fulfill the purposes for which it was organized, or to protect its property from waste and deterioration. In such case, or if a congregation departs from membership in this church without the consent of a convention of the synod, all property of the congregation, real, personal and mixed, shall vest in the synod, its successors or assigns.

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Posted: March 2, 1992
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