Personal Injuries on Church Property and During Church Activities – Part 1

A Texas court ruled that a church was not liable for injuries suffered by a teenager who broke his neck during a youth activity.

Key point 10-11. A church may be legally responsible on the basis of negligent supervision for injuries resulting from a failure to exercise adequate supervision of its programs and activities.
Negligence as a Basis for Liability

A Texas court ruled that a church was not liable, on the basis of negligent supervision, for injuries suffered by a teenager who broke his neck during a youth activity. A church's youth pastor (Pastor Kevin) organized a back-to-school activity for the church's teenagers, which included a game of "capture the flag." During this game, played in a church member's hay pasture, a 15-year-old boy (the victim) broke his neck while trying to take the flag from two other teenage boys who were holding onto the flag and carrying it toward their team's base. The victim's parents sued the church, claiming that it had been negligent in supervising Pastor Kevin and that its negligence caused the injury. The trial court ruled that the church had not been negligent, and the victim's parents appealed.

A state appeals court agreed with the trial court that the church was not negligent. It referred to the senior pastor's testimony, in which he recounted how he had carefully checked the references for Pastor Kevin and the training he had received in preparation to be a church youth minister. Pastor Kevin had been instructed on providing recreational activities for teenagers during his seminary education. Part of this training focused on providing a safe environment for church youth activities. During the three years while Pastor Kevin was youth minister for the church, he continued his training to improve his performance as a youth minister. The senior pastor asserted that Pastor Kevin had done an outstanding job as youth minister for the church, and explained that he regularly supervised games and other recreational activities for the church's teenagers. Even the victim's parents conceded during their testimony that Pastor Kevin had been a good youth minister for the church. All of the other witnesses at trial testified to the good job that Pastor Kevin did in handling all of his responsibilities as a youth minister. No one offered an opposing view, or suggested that the church was negligent in its supervision of Pastor Kevin.

The court concluded that there was no evidence suggesting that the church had negligently supervised Pastor Kevin, and therefore the lawsuit had to be dismissed. Lynch v. Pruitt Baptist Church, 2005 WL 736998 (Tex. App. 2005).

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