Sexual Misconduct by Clergy and Church Workers – Part 2

A New York court ruled that a school was not liable for the molestation of two children by a teacher while attending a party in the victims’ home that was sponsored by their parents.

Church Law and Tax2003-03-01

Sexual misconduct by clergy, lay employees, and volunteers

Key point 10-09.2. Some courts have found churches not liable on the basis of negligent supervision for a worker’s acts of child molestation on the ground that the church exercised reasonable care in the supervision of the victim and of its own programs and activities, or the acts did not occur on church property or during an official church activity.

Key point 10-16.3. A church is not legally responsible for an injury that occurs on its premises or in the course of one of its activities if the injury resulted from the intervention of a new and independent cause that was unforeseeable.

Negligence as a Basis for Liability

* A New York court ruled that a school was not liable for the molestation of two children by a teacher while attending a party in the victims’ home that was sponsored by their parents. The parents of two schoolchildren hosted a New Year’s Eve party and invited their older child’s teacher. The teacher became intoxicated at the party, and the children’s father invited him to stay at their home until he was sober enough to drive home. He gave the teacher a blanket and told him to sleep on the couch in the living room. The next morning, the two children informed their father that the teacher sexually molested them during the night. The father, on behalf of his children, sued the school for damages. The court dismissed the case on the ground that any connection between the teacher’s employment by the school and his sexual molestation of the two children “was severed by time, distance, and the intervening independent actions of their parents.”

Application. This case demonstrates that churches will not necessarily be liable for the sexual misconduct of employees and volunteer workers when any connection between their acts and their role in the church is severed by time, distance, and the intervening actions of others. A common illustration would be an overnight party organized by a family in the church. If a youth worker is invited to attend, and he molests a child, it will be difficult for the victim’s family to persuade a court that there was a sufficient connection between the molester’s position in the church and his wrongful acts to hold the church liable. Anonymous v. Dobbs Ferry Union Free School District, 736 N.Y.S.2d 117 (N.Y. App. 2002).

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