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Negligent Supervision of Church Workers—In General

§ 10.08
Tip. A number of courts, in addressing the question of whether clergy are employees or self-employed for federal income tax reporting purposes, have observed that churches generally exercise relatively little supervision or control over clergy.[108] See, e.g., Weber v. Commissioner, 60 F.3d 1104 (4th Cir. 1995). Such cases can be used by churches in defending against negligent supervision claims involving clergy misconduct.

Churches can use reasonable care in selecting workers, but still be liable for injuries sustained during church activities on the basis of negligent supervision. The term negligence means carelessness or a failure to exercise reasonable care. Negligent supervision, then, refers to a failure to exercise reasonable care in the supervision of church workers and church activities. Churches have been sued on the basis of negligent supervision in a variety of contexts. Consider the following examples:

Examples

  • A minor is sexually molested by a volunteer church youth worker on church premises. The minor's parents sue the church, claiming that it is responsible for their child's injuries on the basis of negligent supervision. They claim that the molestation never would have occurred had the church exercised proper supervision over its workers and activities.
  • A male youth pastor has sexual contact with a 16-year-old female in the church youth group. The incident occurred on a church-sponsored trip. The minor's parents sue the church, claiming that it is responsible for their child's injuries on the basis of negligent supervision. They claim that the incident never would have occurred had the church exercised proper supervision over its youth pastor.
  • A male pastor has sexual contact with an adult female in the course of a counseling relationship. The woman later sues the church, claiming that it is responsible for her injuries on the basis of negligent supervision. She claims that the incident would not have occurred had the church exercised proper supervision over its pastor.
  • An adolescent boy is injured while playing in a church-sponsored basketball game. The minor's parents sue the church, claiming that it is responsible for their child's injuries on the basis of negligent supervision. They claim that the injury never would have occurred had the church exercised proper supervision over its workers and activities.
  • A 5-year-old girl drowns while participating in a church-sponsored trip to a local lake. The minor's parents sue the church, claiming that it is responsible for their child's death on the basis of negligent supervision. They claim that the death never would have occurred had the church exercised proper supervision over its workers and activities.
  • A 10-year-old boy is injured when he falls off a cliff while participating in a church-sponsored camping trip. The minor's mother sues the church, claiming that it is responsible for her child's injuries on the basis of negligent supervision. She claims that the accident never would have occurred had the church exercised proper supervision over its workers and activities.
  • A 6-month-old infant breaks her leg while in the church nursery. There were two attendants on duty in the nursery, both of whom were 15-year-old girls. The accident occurred when the attendant who was changing the infant's diaper temporarily left the infant unattended. The infant's parents sue the church, claiming that the accident never would have occurred had the church exercised proper supervision over its workers and activities.
Key point. Churches are not "guarantors" of the safety and well-being of those persons who participate in their programs and activities. Generally, they are responsible only for those injuries that result from their negligence.
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