Diocese Not Responsible for Priest’s Driving

Priest’s accident occurred outside his scope of employment.

Church Law and Tax 1995-11-01 Recent Developments

Personal Injuries – On Church Property or During Church Activities

Key point: A church is not responsible for injuries caused by its minister’s negligent driving unless the minister was acting within the scope of his employment at the time of the accident.

A Louisiana court ruled that a Catholic diocese was not legally responsible for injuries caused by a priest’s negligent driving since the priest was not acting within the scope of his employment at the time of the accident. A priest, on his day off, was driving home in his own vehicle after having visited an elderly church member. While driving at 50 miles per hour on a state highway the priest struck an 8-year-old boy who was riding his bicycle. The boy had been visible for about 500 feet, and the priest failed to slow down because he was “fascinated” by the boy’s erratic driving. The boy was struggling to control the slightly oversized bicycle that he had received as a gift at Christmas two days before. A state appeals court ruled that the priest had been negligent in failing to slow down when he noticed the boy. However, the court also ruled that the diocese was not legally responsible for the priest’s behavior since the priest was not acting within the scope of his employment at the time of the accident. The court based this conclusion on the following factors: The priest was on his day off; he was driving his own vehicle that was personally insured by him; he was returning from visiting an elderly church member as his own free act; he was not reimbursed by his church or diocese for expenses incurred in visiting the church member; and, neither his church nor diocese asked him to perform priestly functions on his day off. As a result, the court concluded that while the priest was personally responsible for his negligent driving, the diocese and its insurers were not. Weatherford v. Commercial Union Insurance Company, 637 So.2d 1208 (La. App. 1 Cir. 1994).

See Also: Vicarious Liability

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