Key point 10-18.3. There are several legal defenses available to a denominational agency that is sued as a result of the acts or obligations of affiliated clergy and churches. These include a lack of temporal control over clergy and churches; a lack of official notice of a minister’s prior wrongdoing in accordance with the denomination’s governing documents; lack of an agency relationship; the prohibition by the First Amendment of any attempt by the civil courts to impose liability on religious organizations in a way that would threaten or alter their polity; and elimination or modification of the principle of joint and several liability.
* A New York court ruled that the national Boy Scouts of America was not legally responsible for the drowning death of a scout because it did not exercise supervision or control over the activities of local troops. A 15-year-old Boy Scout drowned while on an overnight camping trip as he attempted to cross a rain-swollen river. The boy’s parents sued the BSA and a local council, claiming that they were responsible for the boy’s death based upon negligent supervision. The BSA insisted that it did not supervise or control the day-to-day activities of the scout troop or the scoutmasters. A trial court dismissed the BSA from the lawsuit, and a state appeals court affirmed. It concluded, “The BSA did not exercise supervisory control over the troop or the adult leaders who accompanied the boy scouts on the trip …. The plaintiffs failed to raised a triable issue of fact in this regard.” O’Lear v. Boy Scouts of America, 821 N.Y.S.2d 903 (N.Y. Sup. Ct. 2006).