Key point 10-06. A church may be legally responsible on the basis of negligent selection for injuries resulting from the acts of a minister or other worker not involving sexual misconduct.
Negligent selection claims are not limited to cases involving sexual misconduct. They can arise anytime that a church’s failure to exercise reasonable care in the selection of an employee or volunteer leads to a foreseeable injury. Here are some examples:
- Using adolescents as attendants in the church nursery.
- Selecting adult workers without any training in CPR or other resuscitation techniques to accompany a youth group to any event involving swimming or boating.
- Selecting lay counselors with inadequate professional training.
- Selecting drivers for any church-sponsored activity without checking their driving record.
For example, if a church uses a driver with a suspended drivers license, or with a history of traffic offenses, then it may be responsible on the basis of negligent selection for injuries caused by the driver’s negligence. To reduce the risk of liability in this context, churches should refrain from using any driver without taking the following steps:
- Have each prospective driver complete an application form that asks for the person’s drivers license number, type of drivers license and expiration date, a description of any driving restrictions, and a history of traffic accidents and moving violations.
- Ask the church’s liability insurance carrier to check on the individual’s driving record. Often, insurance companies will perform this task if requested, at no charge. The insurance company should be requested to update its research on all drivers of church vehicles periodically, to screen out persons with a recent history of unsafe driving.
- Discontinue using any driver if reports are received that he or she is operating a church vehicle in a negligent manner. Fully investigate such reports, and do not use the individual again unless the investigation clearly demonstrates that the complaints were without merit.
- If the prospective driver is a new member, then ask for the names and addresses of other churches in which he or she has worked as a driver. Contact those other churches and ask if they are aware of facts that would indicate that the individual should not be used as a driver. Make a written record of such contacts.
- Periodically invite a local law enforcement officer to speak to all drivers concerning safety issues.
- Require all drivers to immediately inform the church of any traffic convictions.
Key point. The risk management strategies addressed in section 10-04.03 can be used to manage the risk of these other kinds of negligent selection.
• A Georgia court ruled that a member of an unincorporated church could sue his church for injuries he sustained while participating in a construction project, and that the church could be liable for the member’s injuries on the basis of its negligent hiring of an incompetent construction foreman. The court noted that the church made no attempt to investigate the qualifications of the construction foreman. When he volunteered for the job, the church merely accepted his offer without further inquiry. And, although there was some evidence that he had some experience with residential construction, this did not necessarily make him qualified to serve as foreman of the church project. The court noted that he had testified that he had “no background, experience, education, or training in commercial construction.” Further, a builder testified that “a contractor with limited residential experience is not necessarily competent to complete a commercial construction project such as a church addition.” In addition, an engineer reviewed the structure of the platform designed by the foreman and concluded that it was “wholly insufficient for its intended purpose.” This evidence persuaded the court that the victim could sue the church for negligent hiring.95 Piney Grove Baptist Church v. Goss, 565 S.E.2d 569 (Ga. App. 2002).