Personal Injuries – Part 2

On Church Property or During Church Activities

Church Law and Tax 1990-03-01 Recent Developments

Personal Injuries – On Church Property or During Church Activities

Can a church be sued for injuries sustained by a child while on a “carnival ride” at a church fund-raising event? That was the issue before a Michigan state appeals court. The church conducted an annual “Applefest” which involved a number of rides and games designed to raise funds. A young girl was injured while on one of the rides that was owned and operated by an outside company. The girl’s parents sued the church as well as the ride operator, and the church sought to avoid liability by claiming that “the ride was neither owned, operated, maintained, nor repaired by the church.” The court agreed that the ride was owned and operated by an outside company, but it concluded that this did not relieve the church of responsibility for the girl’s injuries. The court observed: “[When a landowner] employs independent contractors to provide entertainment … or food or other conveniences … [the landowner] has a duty to exercise reasonable care to see that the equipment, methods and activities of the concessionaire involve no unreasonable risk of physical harm to those whom he invites to enter.” It makes no difference that the landowner retains no control over the activity. The landowner (in this case the church) “must exercise reasonable care for the protection of the business invitee by supervising the activity of a contractor or concessionaire, including the installation and operation of their instrumentalities.” Further, this duty “cannot be delegated.” The court observed, however, that if the church conferred a duty of reasonable care upon the ride owner and operator by a contract provision, then the church “might be entitled to indemnification” from that person. In other words, the church would still be liable to the injured victim, but could sue the ride owner and operator for its failure to adequately maintain or supervise the ride. Many churches and church schools conduct fund-raisers that utilize carnival-type rides. This case provides a warning to these churches and schools that they cannot assume that they will not be liable for injuries occurring to participants. Churches and schools utilizing such activities should (1) monitor the rides to ensure that they are being operated safely, and (2) impose a duty of reasonable care upon the ride owner and operator by a contract provision. Kendzorek v. Guardian Angel Catholic Parish, 444 N.W.2d 213 (Mich. App. 1989).

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