Injuries Sustained on Church Property

A court ruled that a member of an unincorporated church could not sue.

Church Law and Tax 1991-03-01 Recent Developments

Unincorporated Churches

A Pennsylvania court ruled that a member of an unincorporated church cannot sue the church for injuries sustained on church property. A church member was injured when she slipped and fell while leaving Christmas services. She sued her church, alleging that the church board had been negligent in failing to provide adequate lighting, handrails, and stripes on the stairs where the accident occurred. In dismissing the lawsuit, the court observed: “The law in Pennsylvania is clear: the members of an unincorporated association are engaged in a joint enterprise, and the negligence of each member in the prosecution of that enterprise is imputable to each and every other member, so that the member who has suffered damages through the tortious conduct of another member of the association may not recover from the association for such damages.” The court concluded that the victim “was a member of the association and thus any negligence of her fellow members is imputed to her and she cannot recover in tort …. [The victim] was a member of the church, an unincorporated association, at all times material to this case. As a member of the association … the decision not to place a handrail, lights, and stripes on the stairway is attributed to her. She cannot recover in tort because any negligence of the board is attributable to her.” What is the significance of this case? It illustrates that members of unincorporated churches may not be able to sue their church for injuries they sustain on church property or during church activities. Zehner v. Wilkinson Memorial United Methodist Church, 581 A.2d 1388 (Pa. Super. 1990).

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