Church Fire Caused by Improperly Installed Organ

Court rules that church may sue manufacturer.

Church Law and Tax 1991-03-01 Recent Developments

Church Property

A Missouri court ruled that a church could sue an organ manufacturer as a result of a fire that destroyed the church and that allegedly was caused by improper installation of the church organ. A Baptist church constructed a new sanctuary in 1985. Less than two years later, the new facility was completely destroyed in a fire, resulting in a loss of nearly $5 million. The church sued the organ manufacturer, the general contractor, the electrical subcontractor, and the architect. It alleged that all of these parties had been negligent in the design and installation of the organ. Specifically, the church alleged that a large “organ room” containing speakers and amplifiers had been constructed in close proximity to an electrical system including electric wires and outlet boxes, and that this condition caused the fire. All of the defendants asked the trial court to dismiss the lawsuit, and the court agreed in part. A state appeals court however ruled in favor of the church, and ordered the case to proceed to trial. The court acknowledged that the church might have difficulty proving its claims in court: “The peculiar problem for [the church] in the present case is the presence of multiple defendants whose relationship with the construction of the church varies according to each defendant’s performance of different duties. This will present difficult problems at trial, in the absence of proof that the parties acted together or were responsible for the acts of one another. However, sufficiency of pleadings is not determined by problems of proof at trial.” First Baptist Church v. Bybee Church Organs, 789 S.W.2d 829 (Mo. App.1990).

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