Injuries in Church Parking Lots

A woman sued a church after slipping and falling on their icy parking lot.

Church Law and Tax1992-11-01Recent Developments

Taxation – Church Property

A Pennsylvania appeals court ruled that a Catholic church and diocese were not responsible for the injuries sustained by a woman who slipped and fell on an icy church parking lot. The woman, who was attending the church to participate in a bingo game, alleged that the parking lot was covered with a sheet of ice and also 5 inches of new snow. She alleged that the church had been negligent in failing to “implement some remedial measure (placing salt or ashes, warning visitors of the presence of ice, or barricading the icy area),” and accordingly the church was responsible for her injuries. A trial court ruled in favor of the church, and the woman appealed. A state appeals court agreed that the church was not responsible for the woman’s injuries. It observed:

[A]n owner or occupier of land is not liable for general slippery conditions, for to require that one’s walks be always free of ice and snow would be to impose an impossible burden in view of the climatic conditions in this hemisphere. Snow and ice upon a pavement create merely a transient danger, and the only duty upon the property owner or tenant is to act within a reasonable time after notice to remove it when it is in a dangerous condition …. [I]n order to recover for a fall on an ice or snow covered sidewalk, a plaintiff must prove (1) that snow and ice had accumulated on the sidewalk in ridges or elevations of such size and character as to unreasonably obstruct travel and constitute a danger to pedestrians traveling thereon; (2) that the property owner had notice, either actual or constructive, of the existence of such condition; (3) that it was the dangerous accumulation of snow and ice which caused the plaintiff to fall.

The court concluded that the injured woman had failed to satisfy this test, and accordingly the church was not responsible for her injuries. The woman raised another interesting argument on appeal. She claimed that the trial court had improperly refused to exclude from the jury 3 individuals who were members of other churches within the diocese. The woman alleged that these 3 jurors (1) were biased in favor of the church, (2) had a “financial interest” in the outcome of the case, and (3) were subject to “moral intimidation” by the diocese that “nullified their oaths as jurors.” The appeals court concluded that the 3 jurors were not biased. It observed: “Courts in this Commonwealth have long held that a juror is not incompetent merely because he and one of the parties are members of the same religious denomination …. [M]embership in congregations associated with a general religious denomination do not give the jurors a sufficient interest in the outcome of the litigation to render [them biased].” Harmotta v. Bender, 601 A.2d 837 (Pa. Super. 1992).

See Also: Premises Liability | Cases Finding Denominations Not Liable

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