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Issues that affect ministers and churches
Ladders, Licensees, and Liability
Key point 7-20.1. In most states, whether a church is liable for injuries occurring on its premises will depend on 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 responsible for injuries sustained by a member of its board of trustees when he fell from a ladder while performing volunteer service for the church. A church member (the "plaintiff") also served as a volunteer on the church's board of trustees, a group of individuals who volunteered to perform various repairs and maintenance on the church premises. The plaintiff never received or expected any payment or compensation for the work he performed for the church.

Plaintiff volunteered to take down confirmation banners hanging about 20 feet to 25 feet high in the gymnasium of the church's school. To perform this task, the plaintiff decided to use the church's extension ladder. The plaintiff, accompanied by the church's pastor, carried the extension ladder from the garage to the gymnasium. Then, plaintiff, alone, set the extension ladder in place and positioned it on the linoleum gymnasium floor. While working on the extension ladder, without assistance or instruction, the ladder slipped, causing plaintiff to fall approximately 20 feet to the ground, resulting in serious injuries. After the accident, it was discovered that the ladder did not have any antiskid rubber pads on its feet to prevent it from slipping, which plaintiff alleged caused the ladder to fall. The plaintiff admitted that had he looked at the bottom of the ladder before using it, he would have observed that the feet lacked rubber pads and changed his use of the ladder.

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