Denominations—Legal Liability
A Pennsylvania court ruled that a church and diocese could be liable for a priest's acts of child molestation.
Key pointFailure to Report Child Abuse Every state has a child abuse reporting law that requires persons designated as mandatory reporters to report known or reasonably suspected incidents of child abuse. Ministers are mandatory reporters in many states. Some states exempt ministers from reporting child abuse if they learned of the abuse in the course of a conversation protected by the clergy-penitent privilege. Ministers may face criminal and civil liability for failing to report child abuse.
Key pointNegligence as a Basis for Liability Under the principle of comparative negligence, a church is liable only to the extent of its percentage share of fault for an accident or injury.
Key pointDenominational Liability Punitive damages are monetary damages awarded by a jury "in addition to compensation for a loss sustained, in order to punish, and make an example of, the wrongdoer." They are awarded when a person's conduct is reprehensible and outrageous. Most church insurance policies exclude punitive damages. This means that a jury award of punitive damages represents an uninsured risk.

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Posted: July 2, 2001
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