Recent Developments in Illinois Regarding Personal Injuries on Church Property or During Church Activities

An Illinois court ruled that a church could be liable for injuries sustained by participants in a “treasure hunt.”

Church Law and Tax1998-01-01

Personal Injuries-on Church Property or During Church Activities”

Key point. Churches may be liable on the basis of negligence for injuries occurring during “treasurer” or “scavenger” hunts.

An Illinois court ruled that a church could be liable for injuries sustained by participants in a “treasure hunt.” Many churches conduct “treasure” or “scavenger” hunts. Often these are done by youth groups, but not always. Church leaders should review this case carefully before permitting such events. The church in question conducted a treasure hunt, and two church members were injured when the car in which they were traveling struck another vehicle while traveling at an excessive rate of speed. The church was sued on the basis of negligence in organizing and supervising the event. Specifically, the lawsuit alleged that the church organized the treasure hunt, and that participants were encouraged to operate their motor vehicles in a careless and reckless manner while participating in the treasure hunt because the winning team was selected solely on the basis of the fastest time. The state appeals court agreed that the church should have foreseen the risk of injury, and that it had “set a process in motion which could reasonably be expected to cause drivers of the cars in the treasure hunt to speed.”

Application. In recent years a national pizza chain dropped its commitment to deliver pizzas within a specified amount of time. Why did it do so? Because of lawsuits claiming that the pizza chain was responsible for injuries caused by drivers who had to drive recklessly to meet the delivery guaranty. The same principle applies to church—sponsored treasure or scavenger hunts. Churches that organize such events, and select the winning person or team on the basis of speed, are exposing themselves to liability for injuries caused by the reckless driving of participants. How can this risk be reduced? The lawsuit in this case suggested the following steps: (1) select winners on the basis of criteria other than speed; (2) provide participants with information on the routes to be used, including a description of traffic hazards; and (3) emphasize compliance with traffic laws. Indlecoffer v. Village of Wadsworth, 671 N.E.2d 1127 (Ill. App. 1996). [ Negligence as a Basis for Liability, Negligent Supervision as a Basis for Liability]

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