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.
Key point 10-11.1. Churches can reduce the risk of liability based on negligent supervision for injuries not involving sexual misconduct by adopting risk management policies and procedures.
* A New York court ruled that a church was not liable for injuries suffered by a child who fell from a piece of playground equipment on church property during an organized “after school” program. A child was injured when he slipped and fell while engaged in normal play on a "monkey-bars" apparatus during an after-school program operated by a church. Two adult supervisors were approximately 15 feet away from the child when they saw him fall. At least one other supervisor was within the same area, and two additional adult volunteers were assigned to supervise the group of 25 to 30 children that included the victim. A state appeals court dismissed the case, noting that no reasonable person could conclude that the victim’s injuries were due to the church’s negligence: “The victim was not engaged in any rough or inappropriate play prior to the accident and the church was not on notice of any horseplay or defective condition so as to warrant closer supervision or intervention. Accordingly, the degree of supervision afforded by the church was reasonable and adequate under the circumstances, and the child’s injury was not caused by a lack of supervision.”
Application. Churches are not “guarantors” of the safety of children on their premises. They have a duty of using reasonable care in the supervision of activities in which children are engaged. So long as they exercise reasonable care, they will not be negligent and therefore they will not be responsible for injuries occurring to children. In this case, the court concluded that the church had provided adequate supervision of the children involved in the after school program, and therefore it was not responsible for the victim’s injury. Berdecia v. City of New York, 735 N.Y.S.2d 554 (N.Y.A.D. 2001).
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