Personal Injuries on Church Property and During Church Activities – Part 2

A California court ruled that a school was responsible for an off-campus injury to a student.

Church Law and Tax2003-03-01

Personal Injuries on Church Property or During Church Activities

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 California court ruled that a school was responsible for an off-campus injury to a student. This case is directly relevant to church leaders, since occasionally a minor will be injured off of church property, and the church’s responsibility for the injury becomes a concern. In this case, a student was shot by another student after he left an off-campus, school-sponsored event. The jury awarded the victim damages of $313,300 and attributed half of the fault to the school. The school appealed, claiming that it had no duty to protect a student from an injury that occurred off-campus. The appeals court upheld the verdict against the school. The court concluded that a school has a legal duty to exercise reasonable care on campus to protect students from accident or injury off campus. The court cited two cases as examples of “on campus” negligence that resulted in an “off campus” injury. In the first case, a teacher asked students to stay after school to help grade papers. By the time the students left campus, the crossing guard was no longer on duty at a dangerous intersection and the students were hit by a car as they crossed the street. In the second case, a 10-year-old student was hit by a car after he left school premises without permission before classes ended for the day. The school was liable for his injuries because its negligent supervision of the student on campus allowed him to wander off campus and into the street where the accident occurred. The court concluded, based on these two cases, that the school was negligent in allowing the victim to leave an off-campus school-sponsored and supervised activity, and therefore it was responsible for the injury that he sustained.

Application. Churches are not necessarily liable for injuries that occur to members off of church property. They of course may be liable for injuries that occur during an off-campus church-sponsored activity because of the church’s negligent supervision of that activity. In addition, as this case illustrates, they may be liable for an injury that occurs off of church property and apart from a church-sponsored activity if the injury was caused by the church’s negligence on its property or during a church-sponsored off-campus activity. Castillo v. Bishop Garcia Diego High School, 2002 WL 244815 (Cal. App. 2002).

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