Key point 7-20.1. In most states, whether a church is liable for injuries occurring on its premises will depend on the whether the victim is an invitee, a licensee, or a trespasser. Churches, like any property owner, owe the highest degree of care to invitees, a lesser degree of care to licensees, and a very minimal degree of care to trespassers. As a result, it is more likely that churches will be liable for injuries to persons who meet the definition of an "invitee."
* A Michigan court ruled that a church was not liable for injuries a woman sustained when she tripped on an elevated step to exit a pew, since the step was marked with yellow tape and was an open and obvious hazard that should have been recognized. A woman (the "plaintiff") attended a benefit concert at a church. The floor of the pew row in which plaintiff sat was a step higher than the adjoining aisle, and the edge of the step was marked with yellow tape. The plaintiff stepped into the pew without incident, but at the conclusion of the concert, some two hours later, she stood to leave the church. She forgot that a step existed at the end of the pew row, stumbled into the aisle, and sustained injuries. The plaintiff sued the church, claiming that she was an "invitee" while on the church's premises, and that the church failed to maintain the premises in a reasonably safe condition and to warn of the unsafe condition. A trial court dismissed the lawsuit, and the plaintiff appealed.
Whether a church is liable for injuries occurring on its premises depends in most states on the victim's status as an invitee, a licensee, or a trespasser. Churches, like any landowner, owe the highest degree of care to invitees, a lesser degree of care to licensees, and a very minimal degree of care to trespassers. Invitees are persons who are invited to enter onto a landowner's premises, and generally include church members and others who attend scheduled church services and activities. The court noted that a landowner "has a duty to exercise reasonable care to protect an invitee from an unreasonable risk of harm caused by a dangerous condition on the land." However, the duty to protect an invitee "does not extend to a condition from which an unreasonable risk of harm cannot be anticipated, or from a condition that is so open and obvious that an invitee could be expected to discover it for himself."