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

A Louisiana court ruled that a public school was liable on the basis of negligent supervision for the sexual assault of a second grade student by some of his classmates.

Church Law and Tax2002-11-01

Personal injuries on church property or during church activities

Key point 10-09.1. Some courts have found churches liable on the basis of negligent supervision for a worker’s acts of child molestation on the ground that the church failed to exercise reasonable care in the supervision of the victim or of its own programs and activities.

Negligence as a Basis for Liability

* A Louisiana court ruled that a public school was liable on the basis of negligent supervision for the sexual assault of a second grade student by some of his classmates during class while the teacher was present. A second grade student ("Jon") in a public school was sexually assaulted by fellow classmates (who forced him to perform a sex act on one of the classmates) during class while the teacher was present. Jon’s parents sued the teacher and school for negligent supervision. A trial court concluded that Jon’s injuries occurred because of the teacher’s negligent supervision and awarded money damages. The school appealed, insisting that the teacher had not negligently supervised the class. The appeals court noted that "a school is not the insurer of the safety of school children. However, liability will be imposed where there is a causal connection between a lack of supervision and an incident which could have been avoided by the exercise of a reasonable degree of supervision. School board employees have a duty to provide reasonable supervision commensurate with the age of the children and the attendant circumstances." The court then observed,

In the present suit, we are confronted with a second grade student who was threatened and sexually assaulted in a classroom at an elementary school. He was forced to perform a sexual act on another student after being bullied by fellow students. The school does not challenge the veracity of these allegations. Moreover, the trial court believed the victim’s testimony and other evidence in the record supports these findings. Jon’s teacher at the time testified at trial that she noticed some activity at the table where the three boys involved in the incident were sitting and went to investigate immediately. At that time, she was told that one boy had ordered Jon to perform a sexual act on another student. She then escorted the three boys to the disciplinarian. Before she noticed the activity, she testified that she had authorized the class to work independently while she sat at her desk. However, she did not explain specifically what she was doing or what the class was doing other than to say they were working independently while she sat at her desk monitoring the noise level. Jon’s parents do not specifically allege what conduct the teacher did or failed to do to constitute negligence. However, they allege that the teacher failed to reasonably supervise her class, and thus she allowed this assault to occur.

The court concluded that the teacher was negligent in supervising the class: "A sexual assault occurred in her classroom while she was ostensibly in charge of these grade school children. Between the threats and the assault, this egregious misconduct constituted behavior that the teacher had time and opportunity to notice and prevent. For these reasons, we do not believe the trial court erred in concluding that she failed to reasonably supervise her class at the time assault occurred."

Application. This case illustrates the importance of proper supervision of young children. While the teacher emphatically denied that she was guilty of negligently supervising her class, the court concluded that it was not possible to reach any other conclusion when a second grade boy is sexually assaulted during class under the teacher’s direct supervision. This case is directly relevant to church programs and activities involving young children. Vaughn v. Orleans Parish School Board, 802 So.2d 967 (La. App. 2001).

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