Church Property – Part 4

A Connecticut court ruled that a Catholic diocese could be responsible for an injury that occurred at a parochial school if it exercised “control” over the school.

Church Law and Tax2000-05-01

Church Property

Premises Liability

Key point 7-20.2. Churches may be legally responsible for injuries occurring on their premises while being used by an outside group, if they maintain sufficient “control” over their premises during such use.

A Connecticut court ruled that a Catholic diocese could be responsible for an injury that occurred at a parochial school if it exercised “control” over the school. A minor was injured at a parochial school. The minor’s parents sued the diocese, claiming that it was responsible for the minor’s injuries since it maintained sufficient “control” over the school premises. The diocese asked the court to dismiss the lawsuit on the ground that it did not have possession and control of the school when the injury occurred. The archbishop submitted an affidavit to the court stating that the school was solely responsible for the possession, operation, control, and upkeep of its own premises. The victim’s parents asserted that the diocese determined the type of liability insurance the school must obtain, and they claimed that this fact demonstrated sufficient “control” over the school property to make the diocese liable for the injury that occurred there. The court noted that “control generally means the authority to manage, superintend, direct or oversee.” It concluded that evidence of insurance “would be admissible as evidence of possession or control.”

Application. This case suggests that such a church may be liable for injuries that occur on its premises while being used by an outside group if the church maintains sufficient “control” over its premises, and that evidence of insurance is relevant in determining whether or not control exists. Requiring outside groups to obtain their own insurance coverage may reduce a church’s risk of liability for injuries occurring on its premises while being used by an outside group. Drum v. St. Bridget’s Church, 1999 WL 350935 (Conn. App. 1999).

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