Pastor, Church & Law

Negligent Selection of Church Workers—Sexual Misconduct Cases Involving Adult Victims

§ 10.05

Key point 10-05. A church may be liable on the basis of negligent selection for a worker’s molestation of an adult if the church was negligent in the selection of the worker. Negligence means a failure to exercise reasonable care, and so negligent selection refers to a failure to exercise reasonable care in the selection of the worker. Liability based on negligent selection may be imposed upon a church for the acts of employees and volunteers.

In recent years, several churches have been sued as a result of sexual contact by clergy with adults. Most of these cases have involved sexual contact with church employees or with counselees. Nearly all of the cases have involved sexual contact between male clergy and adult female employees or counselees. The personal liability of ministers for engaging in such acts is addressed in a previous chapter.83 See §4-11, supra.This section will address the question of whether the minister’s employing church can be legally responsible for the minister’s acts on the basis of its negligent selection of the minister.

As noted earlier in this chapter, the term negligence refers to conduct that creates an unreasonable risk of foreseeable harm to others. It connotes carelessness, heedlessness, inattention, or inadvertence. Negligent selection of a minister means that the church failed to act responsibly and with due care in the selection of a minister who later engages in some form of foreseeable misconduct. To illustrate, assume that a church hires a minister without any background check, and fails to discover that the minister had been dismissed by another church because of committing adultery with two women. A year later, it is discovered that the minister has engaged in adultery with a married woman in the course of marital counseling. The woman sues the church, claiming that the minister’s conduct caused her emotional and psychological harm, and that her church is legally responsible for the minister’s acts on the basis of negligent selection. She insists that had church leaders contacted the other church they would have discovered the minister’s background and would not have hired him.

Church leaders can take relatively simple yet effective steps to significantly reduce the likelihood of such incidents occurring. This section will review some of the more significant reported court rulings, and then suggest a number of preventive measures that any church can implement in order to reduce the risk of such incidents.

Tip. No one understands or appreciates risk better than insurance companies. Risk evaluation is their business. As a result, it is very important to observe that a number of church insurance companies have reduced the insurance coverage they provide for sexual misconduct, and in some cases they have excluded it entirely. Some companies are suggesting that these incidents are excluded under the provision in most policies excluding damages based on intentional, criminal conduct (most acts of sexual molestation involve criminal activity). Church leaders should immediately review their church liability insurance policy to determine whether the church has any coverage for acts of sexual misconduct, and if so, whether such coverage has been limited in any way. If you fit within either category, the risk management recommendations in this chapter are of even greater relevance.

Key point. Be sure to review Table 10-1 and Table 10-2.

This content is designed to provide accurate and authoritative information in regard to the subject matter covered. It is sold with the understanding that the publisher is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting, or other professional service. If legal advice or other expert assistance is required, the services of a competent professional person should be sought. "From a Declaration of Principles jointly adopted by a Committee of the American Bar Association and a Committee of Publishers and Associations." Due to the nature of the U.S. legal system, laws and regulations constantly change. The editors encourage readers to carefully search the site for all content related to the topic of interest and consult qualified local counsel to verify the status of specific statutes, laws, regulations, and precedential court holdings.

ajax-loader-largecaret-downcloseHamburger Menuicon_amazonApple PodcastsBio Iconicon_cards_grid_caretChild Abuse Reporting Laws by State IconChurchSalary Iconicon_facebookGoogle Podcastsicon_instagramLegal Library IconLegal Library Iconicon_linkedinLock IconMegaphone IconOnline Learning IconPodcast IconRecent Legal Developments IconRecommended Reading IconRSS IconSubmiticon_select-arrowSpotify IconAlaska State MapAlabama State MapArkansas State MapArizona State MapCalifornia State MapColorado State MapConnecticut State MapWashington DC State MapDelaware State MapFederal MapFlorida State MapGeorgia State MapHawaii State MapIowa State MapIdaho State MapIllinois State MapIndiana State MapKansas State MapKentucky State MapLouisiana State MapMassachusetts State MapMaryland State MapMaine State MapMichigan State MapMinnesota State MapMissouri State MapMississippi State MapMontana State MapMulti State MapNorth Carolina State MapNorth Dakota State MapNebraska State MapNew Hampshire State MapNew Jersey State MapNew Mexico IconNevada State MapNew York State MapOhio State MapOklahoma State MapOregon State MapPennsylvania State MapRhode Island State MapSouth Carolina State MapSouth Dakota State MapTennessee State MapTexas State MapUtah State MapVirginia State MapVermont State MapWashington State MapWisconsin State MapWest Virginia State MapWyoming State IconShopping Cart IconTax Calendar Iconicon_twitteryoutubepauseplay