• 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 New York court ruled that the Boy Scouts could be liable for an assault on two young scouts by two older scouts during an overnight activity. The court observed, “The record discloses the existence of triable issues as to whether there was a breach of the camp’s duty of reasonable care and supervision; whether the alleged assaults followed foreseeably from any such breach; and whether Boy Scouts of America had sufficient control over the operation of the camp to be answerable for harm caused by negligence in the camp’s supervision of its campers.” The court added, “A summer camp is duty-bound to supervise its campers as would a parent of ordinary prudence in comparable circumstances. Thus, the degree of supervision required depends largely on the surrounding circumstances and, although constant supervision in a camp setting is neither feasible nor desirable, it is plain that very young campers will in many situations require closer oversight than their older counterparts. Certainly, where, as here, very young campers were placed in bunks with much older campers, in apparent violation of camp policy, the need for particular vigilance to assure the safety and welfare of the younger campers should have been evident.”
Application. The case illustrates two important points. First, the law does not impose a duty of “constant supervision” on camps (and churches). Only reasonable efforts to supervise events is required. Second, the definition of “reasonable efforts to supervise” varies with the circumstances, and is higher when young children are involved since “it is plain that very young campers will in many situations require closer oversight than their older counterparts.” Further, when very young children are placed in bunks with much older children the need for “particular vigilance” to assure the safety and welfare of the younger children is evident. Phelps v. Boy Scouts of America, 762 N.Y.S.2d 32 (N.Y. Sup. 2003).
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