• Key point. Churches are not necessarily responsible for injuries sustained by minors while trespassing on church property.
An Ohio court ruled that a church was not responsible for injuries sustained by a minor who was injured while trespassing on church property. A church owned a "water drenching machine" that was used at various church activities. The machine was designed to be connected to a hose, and anyone who hit a lever on the machine with a ball caused an individual in the machine to be drenched with water. When not in use, the church stored the machine against a wall in the back of the church. A "no trespassing" sign was posted by the church. In addition, neighborhood children were not permitted to play on church premises during the week. The pastor and his wife frequently chased uninvited children off the property. One day a 6—year—old boy entered the church's premises, walked around to the back of the church, and crawled onto the machine. He was injured when it fell on him. The boy's parents sued the church. They claimed that they were not aware that neighbor children were not allowed to play on church property, although they did acknowledge that they were aware of the "no trespassing" sign. A trial court dismissed the lawsuit, and the parents appealed. A state appeals court upheld the trial court's ruling in favor of the church. It noted that the boy was a trespasser, and that a property owner's only duty with respect to a trespasser is to "refrain from wantonly or willfully injuring him." The parents admitted that the church had not acted wantonly or willfully, but they insisted that the church was liable for their son's injuries on the basis of the "dangerous instrumentality" rule. Under this rule, a property owner has a higher duty of care to a child trespasser when it operates hazardous equipment "the dangerousness of which is not readily apparent to children, on or immediately adjacent to a public place." The court concluded that this exception did not apply in this case, since the machine was not "on or immediately adjacent to a public place." To the contrary, the machine was "private property, behind the church building and up against a wall. It was not within easy reach of a child in a public area."