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Negligent Selection of Church Workers—In General

§ 10.03

One of the most significant legal risks facing churches is negligent selection. The term negligence means carelessness or a failure to exercise reasonable care. Negligent selection, then, means carelessness or a failure to exercise reasonable care in the selection of a worker. Consider the following examples:

  • A church employs a pastor without any investigation into his background. The pastor seduces a counselee during marriage counseling. The victim sues the church, claiming that it is responsible for her injuries on the basis of negligent selection. It is later learned that the pastor committed adultery with a member of his prior congregation. No one in his present church asked for any information or references from the former congregation.
  • A church board hires a youth pastor despite its knowledge that the youth pastor engaged in inappropriate sexual relations with an adolescent member of his youth group in a prior church. The board wants to give the youth pastor a "second chance." Six months after being hired, a parent alleges that her adolescent daughter was molested by the youth pastor. The church is later sued by the victim and her mother, who allege that the church is responsible for the youth pastor's misconduct on the basis of negligent selection.
  • A church leader asks a church member if he would drive several members of the church youth group to an activity. The member agrees to do so. While driving to the activity, the member is involved in an accident while driving at an excessive rate of speed. Some of the children are injured. Parents later learn that the driver had a suspended driver's license as a result of numerous traffic violations. No one at the church was aware of the member's driving history, and no one ever attempted to find out. The church is later sued by two of the families, who allege that the church is responsible for the driver's actions on the basis of negligent selection.
  • is a computer technician who feels a "calling" to a counseling ministry. While D is a college graduate, she is not a minister and has never studied psychology or counseling. She is not a licensed counselor. D's church uses D as a part-time volunteer counselor. D counsels with G, a 25-year-old woman with severe emotional problems. D persuades G that her problems are a result of the fact that she was sexually molested by her father when she was a child. G has no recollection of any inappropriate conduct by her father, and at first is repelled by this suggestion. Over the course of several meetings, G comes to believe that D is correct. This results in a complete estrangement from her father. G's father sues the church, claiming that it is responsible for the harm to his family as a result of its negligent selection of D as a counselor.
  • A church takes a group of 25 young children to a local lake for an afternoon of swimming. There are three adults who accompany the group. No lifeguards are on duty. One of the children drowns, and no one is able to resuscitate her because none of the adult chaperones is qualified to perform resuscitation techniques. The victim's parents sue the church, claiming that their child's death was caused by the church's negligent selection of the adult chaperones. They assert that the church should have selected at least one adult worker who was qualified to perform resuscitation techniques.
  • A church has difficulty recruiting adults to work in the infant nursery during church services, and so it often uses adolescents. On one occasion, two 13-year-old girls were overseeing several infants. One of the infants broke a leg when she fell off a diaper changing table while one of the 13-year-old girls was changing her diaper. The infant's parents threaten to sue the church on the basis of negligent selection for their child's injuries.
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