• Key point.Churches may be legally responsible for injuries occurring during activities conducted by scouting and other outside youth-serving organizations that are sponsored by the church.
A New York court ruled that a church might be legally responsible for injuries occurring during the activities of a Boy Scout troop sponsored by the church. An 11-year-old boy was a member of a Boy Scout troop sponsored by a local church. He was injured while sledding on a Boy Scout camping trip to a camp that was owned by a regional Boy Scouts organization. The victim's parents sued the scoutmaster in charge of the trip, the national and regional Boy Scouts organizations, and the sponsoring church. The parents claimed that the negligence of the scoutmaster in permitting the troop to go sledding in a prohibited area resulted in their son's injuries, and that the Boy Scouts organizations and the church were liable for the negligent acts of the scoutmaster based on the doctrine of respondeat superior. Under the respondeat superior doctrine, an organization is legally responsible for the negligent acts of its agents and employees committed within the course of their assigned duties and responsibilities. The court dismissed the national and regional Boy Scouts organizations from the lawsuit, noting that there was no evidence that they had "supervision or control over the activities of the scoutmaster or the troop." However, the court refused to dismiss the church from the lawsuit, since the church "failed to establish as a matter of law that it did not have the ability to control the scoutmaster at the time of the accident."