Churches Can Be Responsible for Injuries Suffered by a Member

On Church Property or During Church Activities

Can a synagogue be legally responsible for injuries suffered by a member who tripped over a plastic runner covering an aisle?

Yes, concluded an Indiana appeals court. The court noted that the liability of landowners (including churches and synagogues) for injuries suffered on their premises depends on whether the victim was a "licensee" or an "invitee."

One who enters premises for his or her own "convenience, curiosity, or entertainment" is a licensee and cannot recover for injuries caused by negligent maintenance of the premises. On the other hand, persons who are invited to enter upon premises for a purpose for which the premises are held open to the public or for business dealings with the owner of the premises are "invitees" who may recover for such injuries.

The court concluded that members who attend activities at a church or synagogue are invitees under this test, since they are invited to enter the premises for the purposes for which they are held open to the public. Accordingly, a church or synagogue has a duty to protect them against negligent conditions on the premises, including improperly maintained runners. Fleischer v. Hebrew Orthodox Congregation, 504 N.E.2d 320 (Ind. App. 1987).

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