Personal Injuries on Church Property or During Church Activities

A New York court ruled that a church was not legally responsible for the death of a parishioner who was struck and killed by a car.

Church Law and Tax2000-07-01

Personal Injuries-on Church Property or During Church Activities

Premises Liability, Negligence as a Basis for Liability

Key point 7-20.4. A variety of defenses are available to a church that is sued as a result of an injury occurring on its premises.

Key point 10-16.3. A church is not legally responsible for an injury that occurs on its premises or in the course of one of its activities if the injury resulted from the intervention of a new and independent cause that was unforeseeable.

A New York court ruled that a church was not legally responsible for the death of a parishioner who was struck and killed by a car while he was standing on the front steps of his church. The deceased member was standing on the steps of the church when he was struck by a car driven by a fellow church member. The accident occurred when the driver exited his vehicle while on church property. Upon attempting to reenter his vehicle as it rolled forward, the driver stepped on the gas pedal instead of the brake, causing the car to accelerate forward and mount the steps of the church, where the victim was standing. The victim’s injuries resulted in his death later that day. The victim’s estate sued the church, claiming that it was responsible for the victim’s death. A court disagreed. It noted that “a landowner has a duty to maintain his or her property in reasonably safe condition,” but it also pointed out that “[t]here will ordinarily be no duty imposed on a defendant to prevent a third party from causing harm to another unless the intervening act which caused the plaintiff’s injuries was a normal and foreseeable consequence of the situation created by the defendant’s negligence. Liability may not be imposed upon a party who merely furnished the condition or occasion for the occurrence of the event but was not one of its causes. Here, the accident was not a normal and foreseeable consequence of any actions of the church. The church merely provided an area to drop off passengers, thereby furnishing the condition for the accident, but not a cause.” Bun Il Park v. Korean Presbyterian Church, 1999 WL 1214620 (N.Y.A.D. 1999).

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