Negligence as a Basis for Liability—In General
Key point 10-01. Negligence is conduct that creates an unreasonable risk of foreseeable harm to the person or property of another, and which results in the foreseeable harm. The important point is that negligence need not be intentional. It includes conduct that is simply careless, heedless, or inadvertent. A person who kills a pedestrian while texting on a cellphone did not intend to kill the victim, but nonetheless may be liable for monetary damages in a civil lawsuit based on negligence.
Churches can be liable on the basis of negligence in a number of ways. First, they can be liable for their own negligence. Examples include the negligent selection or retention of church workers, or the negligent supervision of church activities. To illustrate, a church may be guilty of negligent selection if it hires a convicted child molester or uses a driver with numerous traffic violations. A church may be guilty of negligent supervision if it uses an inadequate number of qualified adults to supervise a church youth activity.
Churches also can be liable for the negligence of employees and volunteers occurring within the scope of their work. Employers generally are responsible for the negligence of an employee (or volunteer) occurring within the scope or course of employment. This vicarious or imputed liability of an employer for the negligence of an employee is known as respondeat superior (the "employer responds"). All of these forms of negligence are addressed in the following sections of this chapter