A Connecticut court ruled that a church was not responsible for injuries sustained by a minor during an all-night “sleepover” while the group was visiting an off-site recreational facility. The victim’s parents sued the church, claiming that their daughter’s injuries were caused by the church’s “negligence, carelessness and omissions.” In particular, they claimed that the church failed to provide and supervise its own personnel in protecting the youth involved in the sleepover, and failed to supervise the recreational facility’s personnel. A state appellate court dismissed the negligence claims against the church.
Failure to Supervise Church Personnel
The court quoted section 320 of the Restatement (Second) of Torts (a respected legal treatise):
One who voluntarily takes the custody of another under circumstances such as to deprive the other of his normal power of self-protection or to subject him to association with persons likely to harm him, is under a duty to exercise reasonable care so to control the conduct of third persons as to prevent them from intentionally harming the other or so conducting themselves as to create an unreasonable risk of harm to him, if the actor (a) knows or has reason to know that he has the ability to control the conduct of the third persons, and (b) knows or should know of the necessity and opportunity for exercising such control.
For the duty set forth in this section to apply, “the circumstances under which a person takes custody of another must be such as to deprive the other of his normal power of self-protection or to subject him to association with persons likely to harm him.” Here, the parents “have not alleged such circumstances. They have not alleged how the circumstances deprived their then-sixteen year old daughter of her normal power of self-protection or subjected her to association with persons likely to harm her.”
The court cautioned that “the duty of an adult to protect a child from harm is enhanced when the child is of tender years or is otherwise incapable of managing his own affairs … . What constitutes reasonable care is contextual—the extent and type of supervision required of young elementary school pupils is substantially different from reasonable care for college students.”
Failure to Supervise the Recreational Facility’s Personnel
As to the alleged failure by church personnel to monitor the recreational facility’s personnel, the court noted that the parents “do not allege that the church: (a) knew or had reason to know that it had the ability to control the conduct of [the facility], and (b) knew or should have known of the necessity and opportunity for exercising such control.”
What This Means For Churches:
This case demonstrates that churches will not necessarily be liable for injuries that occur to adolescent minors at off-site facilities in the course of sleepovers and other church activities. However, liability may exist in cases involving young children, or if the church signs a contractual document in which it assumes risks of injuries or agrees to indemnify and hold harmless the facility where an injury occurs. There have been many cases in which churches were found liable for injuries to youth at off-site venues solely on the basis of a contractual agreement signed by the church as a condition to using the facility. Church leaders should have legal counsel review any contractual documents before agreeing to the use of a recreational facility by church youth. Granja v. Middlebury Church, 2012 WL 5860318 (Conn. Super. 2012).