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

A Minnesota court ruled that a church was not responsible for injuries sustained by a worker while installing a church steeple.

Church Law and Tax2003-11-01

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

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 Minnesota court ruled that a church was not responsible for injuries sustained by a worker while installing a church steeple. A church member (“Bill”) obtained approval from the church to erect a church steeple in his deceased father’s memory. Bill hired an experienced crane operator to hoist the steeple onto the church’s roof, and paid him $300 for his services. The crane operator was assisted by an adult male (“Tim”). The crane operator and his assistant set up their crane on the church’s property, and while they were preparing to hoist the steeple into place the crane came into contact with a power line and seriously injured Tim.

Tim sued the church, claiming that it was liable for the negligent operation of the crane. He claimed that the church, Bill, and the crane operator were all engaged in a “joint enterprise” making each liable for the acts of the others. A trial court dismissed the lawsuit, and Tim appealed. A state appeals court affirmed the dismissal of the case. It noted that a joint enterprise exists “if there is (1) a mutual undertaking for a common purpose, and (2) a right to some voice in the direction and control of the means used to carry out the common purpose.” If a joint enterprise exists, and one participant “negligently causes an injury while acting within the scope of such enterprise, every participant therein is liable to the injured party.” The court conceded that it was possible to find “a mutual undertaking for the common purpose of erecting a steeple on the church.” But, there was “no evidence to show that each participant had an equal right to direct and govern the movements and conduct of every other participant with respect to the mutual undertaking or that they shared expenses or equipment relating to the project.” The court also rejected Tim’s claim that the church was legally responsible for his injuries on the basis of negligence. It noted that “the danger of electrocution was open and obvious [and Tim] was informed of the power wires, and the church had no right of control over [the crane operator].” Hamm v. Oak Park Lutheran Church, 2002 WL 31171760 (Minn. App. 2002).

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