Runquist explains the verdict and its importance:
The Supreme Court of California . . . found that the church was not liable for clergy malpractice and did not violate any legal duty to Mr. Nally. Specifically, there was no duty on the church and its pastors (and other “non-therapist counselors”) to refer suicidal persons to licensed psychotherapists. In addition, there was no cause of action for wrongful death based on intentional infliction of emotional distress. Since that time, there have been other cases brought in various other states, also finding no breach of duty by clergy.
For churches worried about the risk of liability for counseling someone with mental health issues, that’s good news. But it’s not the full scope of the issue.
Runquist is quick to note that although the Supreme Court of California ruled in favor of the church in this case, it did so based—at least in part—on several key facts of the case that might not be applicable to future lawsuits against churches. Those key facts in this specific case were:
- The individual voluntarily sought counsel from the church.
- The church did not have a professional or clinical counseling ministry. They responded on a spiritual, biblical, or prayer level. "In essence, defendants held themselves out as pastoral counselors able to deal with a variety of problems—not as professional, medical, or psychiatric counselors," according to a concurring opinion from the court.