Personal Injuries – Part 2

On Church Property or During Church Activities

Church Law and Tax 1989-01-01 Recent Developments

Personal Injuries – On Church Property or During Church Activities

Does your church or denomination conduct a scouting or camping program for youth? If so, you will be interested in a recent Florida appeals court decision. A boy scout sued a regional organization of the Boy Scouts of America alleging that he had been emotionally and physically damaged by the intentional homosexual acts of a first aid attendant at a camp operated by the regional organization. The victim alleged that the regional organization was liable on the basis of “negligent retention and supervision” and the theory of “respondeat superior.” The court rejected the first theory of liability, since an organization “must have had constructive or actual notice of the employee’s unfitness to work as a first aid attendant at the camp to be liable for negligent retention and supervision,” and there was no evidence that the organization had any notice of the attendant’s unfitness to work with youth. However, the court concluded that the regional organization could be liable on the basis of “respondeat superior.” Respondeat superior is a well-established legal principle that imputes the negligent acts of employees to their employer, if the acts were committed within scope of employment. The court acknowledged that the acts in question were intentional rather than negligent, but it concluded that even intentional acts of an employee can be imputed to an employer if “the employee’s misconduct occurred within the scope of the employment” or if “the employee was doing what his employment contemplated.” However, the court observed that “there is no liability [on the part of the employer] when the servant steps aside from his employment to commit a wrongful act to accomplish some purpose of his own.” The court held that “generally the jury should resolve the question of whether an employee was acting within the scope of his employment.” And, since the trial court had ruled in favor of the Boy Scouts without letting the case go to the jury, the appeals court remanded the case back to the trial court for a jury trial on the issue of respondeat superior. Obviously, this is an important decision for any organization (including churches and denominations) that operates a scouting or camping program. Churches and denominational agencies that operate youth camps must exercise extreme care in selecting and supervising workers (both volunteer and compensated). At a minimum, this will mean reference checks, an appropriate application form, never leaving minors in the custody of one adult, and refusing to hire anyone whom you have reasonable cause to believe is unfit. A feature article in a future issue of Church Law & Tax Report will address in detail the issue of church hiring practices. M.V. v. Gulf Ridge Council of Boy Scouts or America, Inc., 529 So.2d 1248 (Fla. App. 2nd Dist. 1988).

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