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National, Regional Denominational Agencies Not Legally Responsible for Child’s Brain Damage Incurred at Affiliated Church
Key point 10-18.2. Most courts have refused to hold denominational agencies liable for the acts of affiliated ministers and churches, either because of First Amendment considerations or because the relationship between the denominational agency and affiliated church or minister is too remote to support liability.
Key point 10-18.3. There are several legal defenses available to a denominational agency that is sued as a result of the acts or obligations of affiliated clergy and churches. These include a lack of temporal control over clergy and churches; a lack of official notice of a minister's prior wrongdoing in accordance with the denomination's governing documents; lack of an agency relationship; the prohibition by the First Amendment of any attempt by the civil courts to impose liability on religious organizations in a way that would threaten or alter their polity; and elimination or modification of the principle of joint and several liability.

A Louisiana appeals court ruled that national and regional denominational agencies were not legally responsible for permanent brain damage suffered by a toddler who fell into a filled, uncovered baptistery in an affiliated church. On December 19, 2013, a mother and her 22-month-old daughter attended a dinner at a church in their community. At some point during the dinner, the daughter was found submerged in the baptismal pool of the church. The child suffered a severe brain injury that has left her unable to walk, talk, or feed herself. The mother sued the church, and regional and national denominational agencies with which it was affiliated (the "regional church" and "national church") claiming that they had all been negligent in failing to guard the baptismal pool in any way and leaving the pool full of water. The pool is four feet deep. There are no doors or other barriers separating the pool from the general premises of the church and no cover over the pool or any other safety features.

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