Clergy – Part 1

Personal Liability

Church Law and Tax 1989-05-01 Recent Developments

Clergy – Personal Liability

A minister and his church were both sued as a result of damages suffered by a workman hired to demolish a church-owned garage. While removing the garage door, the workman was permanently injured when he was splashed in the face by corrosive chemicals after a cable snapped and struck a chemical container. A trial court determined that there was “probable cause” that the church and minister would be found liable in the amount of $1,000,000, and accordingly it ordered the church’s real estate to be “attached” pending the outcome of the trial. The workman maintained that the church and minister were negligent in failing to warn him of the dangerous materials located on the property. Note that ministers may be sued individually even if their employing church is incorporated, if they directly participate in alleged wrongdoing. In this case, the minister was allegedly negligent in failing to warn the workman of a hazardous condition on the premises. The fact that the church was incorporated would not protect the minister from personal liability for the results of his own negligence. However, it ordinarily would protect members from personal liability if they did not participate in the alleged negligence. Green v. Holy Trinity Church of God in Christ, 549 A.2d 281 (Conn. App. 1988).

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