Recent Developments

Issues that affect ministers and churches
Churches' Liability for Children in Their Care
What legal responsibility do churches have to supervise children?
Georgia
State:
Key point: A church can be legally responsible on the basis of negligent supervision for the abduction and molestation of a child who wanders off of church premises.

In a decision that will be of direct relevance to churches, a Georgia court ruled that a local Boys Club could be sued by the parents of a 5-year-old boy who was abducted and molested when he wandered off the Boys Club premises without adult supervision. The victim was enrolled in a summer day camp conducted by the Boys Club in his community. Boys in the program ranged from 6 to 11 (an exception was made in the case of the victim), and the boys were to be under the direct supervision of an adult worker at all times. An adult was stationed at a desk by the front door of the facility, and no child was allowed to leave the premised unattended. Nevertheless, the victim was able to walk out the front door and go around the building to look at the swimming pool without adult supervision. While outside, the boy was abducted and sexually molested. No adult staff member was aware of the victim's absence until his big brother brought it to the staff's attention. A search proved fruitless. The boy was later found in a nearby forest by police. About a month before the abduction a staff member called the victim's parents to inform them that the boy was missing. After a thorough search the boy was found asleep in a small room on the premises. The victim's parents expressed concern about this incident and were assured that the staff would in the future watch the victim closely and keep track of his whereabouts. The parents later sued the Boys Club and a trial court dismissed the lawsuit. The parents appealed, and a state appeals court ruled that the parents could sue the Boys Club on the basis of negligent supervision. The appeals court began its opinion by explaining the "duty of care" that is imposed on institutions that care for or work with children:

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Posted: November 1, 1994
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