Personal Injuries on Church Property or During Church Activities – Part 1

A New York court ruled that a school was not legally responsible for the shooting death of a student that occurred on school premises.

Church Law and Tax2001-09-01

Personal injuries on church property or during church activities

Key point.Negligence as a Basis for Liability 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.

A New York court ruled that a school was not legally responsible for the shooting death of a student that occurred on school premises. In recent years a number of students have been injured or killed by gunfire on school property. What if such an incident should occur on your property? Would the church be liable? The New Your court stressed that “while schools are under a duty to adequately supervise the students in their care, they are not insurers of the students’ safety.” It concluded that a public school cannot be liable on the basis of negligent supervision for the shooting deaths of students on school property unless school authorities “had sufficiently specific knowledge or notice of the dangerous conduct which caused injury; that is, that the third-party acts could reasonably have been anticipated. A plaintiff must also establish that the alleged breach of the duty to provide adequate supervision was a proximate cause of the injuries sustained.” The court concluded that the school could not be liable since it had no prior knowledge of similar incidents, and it dismissed the lawsuit.

Application.One of our recent surveys of church practices disclosed that one percent of churches are aware that a gun was brought onto their premises during the past year. While shooting incidents on church property remain rare, they are a possibility. Few courts have addressed the liability of schools or churches for shooting deaths that occur on their property, and that makes the recent New York case particularly relevant. The New York court’s conclusions that schools are not guarantors of the safety of children, and will be liable for shooting accidents only if they had prior knowledge of similar acts and failed to respond appropriately, will be helpful to any church that experiences a death or injury by a firearm. Billinger v. Board of Education, 706 N.Y.S.2d 178 (Sup. Ct. 2000).

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