Child Abuse – Part 1

Church Law and Tax 1990-03-01 Recent Developments Child Abuse Richard R. Hammar, J.D., LL.M., CPA

Church Law and Tax 1990-03-01 Recent Developments

Child Abuse

In a decision that will be of relevance to churches and religious denominations conducting scouting programs, a Louisiana state appeals court addressed the liability of the Boy Scouts of America (and a regional affiliate and local sponsor) for injuries sustained by a boy who was sexually molested by a scoutmaster. The case is especially relevant to local churches since the local sponsor of the scout troop was also sued (many churches that do not have scouting programs of their own sponsor Boy Scouts or other scouting programs by allowing them to meet on their premises). Here are the relevant facts in this significant case. A couple filed a lawsuit alleging that a particular scoutmaster repeatedly molested troop members from 1983 through 1986, including the couple’s two sons. The couple sued the scoutmaster, the national and regional scouting organizations, and the local sponsor of the scout troop. The lawsuit alleged that the national and regional organizations and local sponsor were negligent in (1) “failing to take prudent and reasonable precautions to assure that the [scoutmaster] did not have a history of, or characteristics that would suggest a propensity toward child sexual molestation”; (2) appointing the molester as a scoutmaster “when they knew or should have known of his propensity for committing the sexual acts complained of”; (3) carelessly and negligently selecting scoutmasters; (4) failing to warn parents of the known sexual propensities of the scoutmaster who molested their children; (5) failing to have the molester undergo psychological counseling and testing when they knew or should have known of his propensity to commit acts of sexual molestation; (6) allowing the scoutmaster to continue with his duties when they knew or should have known of his propensity to commit act of sexual molestation; (7) failing to properly supervise the scoutmaster; and (8) failing to properly supervise minor children. A trial court dismissed most of the charges against the national and regional scouting organizations and the local sponsor, and the parents appealed. The state appeals court ruled that the parents had stated a valid claim against the defendants and ordered the case to proceed to trial. The court concluded that “one who undertakes the control or supervision of a child owes a duty to exercise reasonable care to protect the child from injury”; that the parents had stated enough allegations to support liability on the part of the defendants (if proven); and, that the parents should be allowed the opportunity to prove their allegations before a jury. This is the latest of several cases addressing the issue of sexual molestation of minors during church-related activities that have been summarized over the last few years in Church Law & Tax Report. It is an issue that needs to be addressed by local churches and regional and national denominational offices. Suggestions were reported in feature articles in previous issues of this newsletter. This case is of special interest because it is the first to assert liability against the sponsor of a scout troop. As mentioned above, this suggests that churches that simply allow scouting organizations to utilize their facilities may be at risk as well as those churches and denominations that have established and promote their own scouting programs. Future developments in this case, and any related cases, will be covered in future issues of this newsletter. L. P. v. Oubre, 547 So.2d 1320 (La. App. 1989).

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