Personal Injuries – Part 2

On Church Property or During Church Activities

Church Law and Tax 1990-01-01 Recent Developments

Personal Injuries – On Church Property or During Church Activities

Can a nine-year-old boy’s own negligence prevent his family from recovering damages for fatal injuries suffered by the boy during a youth group activity? That was the issue before the Mississippi Supreme Court in a recent case. The boy was one of 19 children (between nine and twelve years of age) participating in a baseball game at a local park under the supervision of a 24-year-old “counselor.” After the game, the boys began playing on a large pole laying near the baseball field. The pole was over 18 feet long and weighed 1500 pounds, and was embedded in a shallow trough along the side of a gravel road. The ground on the side opposite the road sloped slightly downward. The adult supervisor promised a free ice cream cone to the child who could stay on the pole the longest. After several of the children had remained on the pole for ten minutes, the supervisor attempted to move the pole to make balancing more difficult. With the aid of several of the boys, he was able to move the log out of the trough in which it has been resting. The sudden movement of the log caused all the children still standing on the log to jump off. All of them except one jumped to the “high side” of the log, while the other boy jumped to the downhill side. The log rolled over and fatally crushed this boy. The main issue before the court was whether the victim’s own negligence prevented his family from recovering damages for his death. Ordinarily, an accident victim’s own “contributory negligence” will prevent him or her from recovering money damages (or will reduce the amount of damages available) from the person or organization primarily responsible for the accident. Should this principle apply to children? The court said no: “The law with respect to contributory negligence on the part of minors is clear. A minor between the ages of seven and fourteen years is presumed not to be possessed of sufficient discretion to make him guilty of contributory negligence ….” This ruling illustrates the additional risk that churches incur during youth activities, since they often will be unable to avoid legal liability by arguing that injured minors were themselves responsible for their own injuries. Glorioso v. YMCA of Jackson, 540 So.2d 638 (Miss. 1989).

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