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

A North Carolina court ruled that the parents of a 12-year-old boy were not liable for injuries the youth director sustained.

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 North Carolina court ruled that the parents of a 12-year-old boy who negligently collided with a church's youth director while skiing were not liable for injuries the youth director sustained.

A youth group from a Florida church went on a skiing trip to West Virginia. At the same time, a youth group from a North Carolina church was on a trip to the same ski resort. A 12-year-old boy (Nathaniel) with the North Carolina group had no previous skiing experience. Upon arriving at the ski slope, Nathaniel and a friend went skiing on a beginner slope. An experienced adult skier from the North Carolina church supervised the two boys. Later that day, an adult supervisor (Linda) of the Florida youth group was instructing an inexperienced teenage skier how to ski on the beginner slope. After Linda and the young skier reached the bottom of the beginners' slope, she gave the young lady the "thumbs up" sign indicating she had done a good job. As she was finishing the motion, Nathaniel skied into her from behind. Linda had not seen him coming.

Just prior to the accident, Nathaniel was skiing the beginners' slope with a friend. His adult supervisor was skiing behind them. While skiing the "bunny slope," Nathaniel hit an icy patch and became "out of control," which caused him to ski faster. Although Nathaniel tried to avoid hitting Linda, he collided with her. Linda suffered a broken leg and a displaced broken hip. She remained in the hospital for five days, underwent two surgeries, had a steel plate placed in her leg, attended a rehabilitation clinic for two weeks, had to have around the clock care for seven weeks, and had to use a walker, cane, or crutches for over a year.

Linda sued the Nathaniel's parents, claiming that their negligence, combined with Nathaniel's negligence, caused her injuries. She argued that the parents were negligent because they sent their child on a ski trip knowing that he had never skied, without providing him ski lessons that were available and would have made him a much safer skier. Had Nathaniel received ski lessons, he would have been taught to sit down when out of control and the collision would have been avoided. The trial court dismissed all claims against the parents, and Linda appealed.

The appeals court ruled that "the failure to take a ski lesson prior to skiing for the first time on the beginners' slope does not constitute negligence." It continued, "There are several ways in which a person may learn how to ski-trial and error or another person may provide instruction. Indeed, at the time of Linda's accident, she was instructing an inexperienced teenager on how to ski. Similarly, Nathaniel was skiing with an experienced adult skier on the beginner slope, who was also supervising the boys. Moreover, [the church's youth director] testified that upon their arrival at the ski resort, they had been instructed on safety and respect on the slopes by the company with whom the church contracted to coordinate the ski trip." Frank v. Funkhouser, 609 S.E.2d 788 (N.C. App. 2005).

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