Court Concluded That a Member of an Unincorporated Church Cannot Sue the Church for Injuries Sustained While Repairing a Church Sound System

Can a member of an unincorporated church sue the church for injuries sustained while repairing

Can a member of an unincorporated church sue the church for injuries sustained while repairing a church sound system? No, concluded a South Carolina appeals court.

A church member was seriously injured when he fell from the church's attic onto a concrete floor while attempting to repair a speaker system at the request of the church board. The court concluded that the injured member could not sue either the church or the board members in their official capacity.

It explained its ruling as follows: "Members of an unincorporated association are engaged in a joint enterprise, and the negligence of each member in the prosecution of that enterprise is imputable to each and every other member, so that the member who has suffered damages to his person, property, or reputation through the tortious conduct of another member of the association may not recover from the association for such damage, although he may recover individually from the member actually guilty of the tort.

The reason for this rule, as it is sometimes stated by the courts, is that since the negligence of the tortfeasor member is imputable to the member who has sustained the damage or injury as a result of such tort, the latter may not sue himself for his own negligence." The court acknowledged that some states have enacted laws that permit persons to sue an unincorporated association directly. However, it noted that such laws also treat unincorporated associations as "legal entities" and "expose only the assets of the association to liability."

South Carolina law, on the other hand, does not treat unincorporated churches as "legal entities" and specifically allows any judgment against an unincorporated association to be paid out of the personal assets of individual members. As a result, the court concluded that "a member of a voluntary unincorporated association … cannot maintain an action in tort against the association for injuries suffered by the member because of the negligence of fellow members."

This case illustrates the potential risk faced by members of unincorporated churches who are injured in the course of church activities, particularly if the church has not obtained adequate liability insurance.

Crocker v. Barr, 367 S.E.2d 471 (S.C. App. 1988)

Court Concluded Father’s Beating Constituted Child Abuse Not Excused on the Grounds of Reasonableness or Religion

At what point does the physical discipline of a child by a parent become "child

At what point does the physical discipline of a child by a parent become "child abuse"? This difficult question was addressed in a recent South Carolina case. A father beat his 13-year old daughter with a belt, and hit her on the face with his hand (while wearing a large college ring).

Five days later, the girl had large purple bruises covering most of the back of her legs and thighs, as well as a bruise on her face. The father felt that the beating was a proper exercise of parental discipline (his daughter allegedly told a lie), that it was a reasonable use of force, and that it was protected by the constitutional guaranty of religious freedom. He cited Proverbs 23:13-14: "Withhold not correction from the child; for if thou beatest him with the rod, he shall not die."

The court concluded that the beating constituted child abuse, and that it was not excused on the grounds of either reasonableness or religion. The court acknowledged that "reasonable" physical discipline is permitted, but concluded that the beating in question was excessive. With regard to the claim that the Bible justified the beating, the court observed that the Bible also pronounces the death penalty on disobedient children (Deuteronomy 21:18-21)—a claim that the parents clearly did not espouse.

The court further noted that "the law can regulate how people act, even if how they act is based on what they believe. If the law were otherwise, a Fundamental Mormon could have multiple wives, a Jehovah's Witness could withhold medical care form his child and a modern-day adherent of an early easter religion could drown a virgin bride to appease a river god. Indeed, if the law were otherwise, the father in this case could beat his daughter into submission.

Decisions of the United States Supreme Court have denied constitutional protection to the former practices. By our own decision in this case, we deny constitutional protection to the latter." The court left the girl in her parents' home, subject to "protective services." "We believe," concluded the court, "the mother and father can, if they will, learn to express their love in better ways, and the child can, if she will, learn to obey her parents—a requirement, coincidentally, of both the Bible and the law." Department of Social Services v. Father and Mother, 366 S.E.2d 40 (S.C. App. 1988)

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