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Church Not Liable for Injuries Sustain by Teen at a Church Youth Event

Key point 10-11. A church may be legally responsible on the basis of negligent supervision for injuries resulting from a failure to exercise adequate supervision of its programs and activities.

An Illinois court ruled that a church was not liable for injuries sustained by a 13-year-old boy who fell 25 feet from a platform in a tree at the home of a church member during a bonfire activity sponsored by the church’s youth group. A church’s youth ministry conducted a bonfire at a church member’s home. The homeowner had previously constructed a platform in a tree from which he had removed the upper branches and foliage. The platform was about 25 feet above the ground, and was reached by a ladder tied to the tree. The platform had a rail around it, but no other fall protection.

The platform had a triangular hole in it, and through the hole, was a metal “fire pole.” The pole was made out of sprinkler pipe, was affixed in concrete at the base, and was 3½ inches in diameter. The surface of the pole had oxidized. The ground around the pole was grass covered, and no force-absorbing material, such as sand or wood chips, had been placed around the bottom of the pole.

The homeowner explained that he built the platform and fire pole for his children. He testified that between 150 to 200 people had used the pole, all without injury. The homeowner was a construction contractor and was familiar with fall protection for working above the ground and had employed it in his work, but no fall protection was installed or available on the platform.

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