Church sponsored activities…does you church policy provide protection?
In our modern litigious society, individuals and businesses know that they need to carry liability insurance. This is the part of an insurance policy that protects you financially if you are found to be the responsible party in case of an accident. You automatically add auto liability insurance when you purchase a new car, and check out homeowners’ insurance when you decide to buy your first home. Business owners automatically add the cost of liability insurance into the operating costs of their businesses, but does your church also consider the need for liability insurance that will cover all aspects of your church’s operations? If you haven’t considered it before, then you definitely need to consider it now.
One area of church liability that can often be overlooked is that of church-sponsored activities. These activities are tremendously varied and can range from mission trips, to fund raisers, to vacation bible school. Any time that the church sponsors an activity, the church can be held legally responsible for anything that might go wrong. It is important to analyze your church’s insurance policy to make sure that it provides full and complete coverage for church-sponsored events – a good insurance policy can ease some of your concerns about liability.
Coverage that you should look for regarding church sponsored events includes:
- General liability coverage which protects the church against claims of bodily injury or property damage.
- Medical expense coverage.
- Non-owned and hired auto liability.
- Personal Effects and property of others on a worldwide basis; for example, property lost on a mission trip.
Just as a matter of course, certain standard forms should be used for any church-sponsored youth events, such as an authorization for medical treatment, a parent/guardian consent form, and a parent/guardian consent to medical, dental, or hospital care. These and any additional event forms should be collected before the event, and kept on hand during the event. Also, you should always make sure that youth events have adequate child-to-adult ratios in place for proper supervision.
The following activities should all be addressed in your insurance policy:
Transporting people: Perhaps you pick up seniors for church or give them a lift to the doctor’s office. Maybe you use the church van for youth group trips or vacation bible school outings. Whatever transportation you provide, make sure you thoroughly investigate the background of the driver. Make sure that the drivers of your church vehicles have impeccable driving records. Your church will be held responsible if one of its vehicles is in an accident resulting from driver negligence, especially if the driver has a history of traffic offenses or accidents. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), nearly 5,500 people were killed on U.S. roadways in 2009 as a result of distracted driving, and an estimated 448,000 people were injured. It is important to educate your staff and volunteer drivers on the dangers associated with distracted driving, particularly the use of cell phones. There are many types of driving distractions, including:
- Eating and drinking
- Talking to passengers
- Personal grooming
- Reading maps
- Using a navigation system
- Adjusting a radio, CD player, or MP3 player
- Using a cell phone
Cell phone use has the highest risk of all distractions because it involves three types of driver distractions simultaneously: visual (taking your eyes off of the road), manual (taking your hands off the wheel), and cognitive (taking your mind off driving).
Other facts and statistics concerning cell phones and distracted driving include:
- Drivers who use hand-held cell phones are four times more likely to get into a crash (Monash University).
- Text messaging while driving increases the crash risk 23 times (Virginia Tech Transportation Institute).
- Sending or receiving a text takes a driver’s eyes off the road for 4.6 seconds, which is the equivalent of driving the length of a football field blind at 55 miles per hour (Virginia Tech Transportation Institute).
- Using a cell phone while driving delays a driver’s reactions as much as having a blood alcohol concentration at the legal limit of .08 percent (University of Utah).
Use of church facilities: If you open your church hall for community bingo or your gym to church volleyball, you are responsible for keeping your property free from obvious dangers. For example, you must keep steps in good repair, and make sure that loose ceiling tiles are fixed. If someone is injured while playing volleyball, you aren’t legally responsible to pay damages unless the accident was caused by negligence on your part. Legally, if you have given someone permission (such as the volleyball players) to be on your premises, that person is legally called a “licensee.”
You are liable to licensees only if you know about dangers on your property that you fail to warn them about. You are not obliged to eliminate such risks from your property but only to warn licensees about them. For example, if you allow the local book club to conduct an evening meeting at your church, and you know your driveway has a large pothole that can’t be seen at night, you have a duty to warn the visitors of the pothole’s existence. You would not have the same duty if the meeting took place during the day, when the pothole would be plainly visible to your guests. Nor would you have the same responsibility if the pothole was not created until the day of the meeting and you weren’t aware of it.
In addition to protecting yourself from liability in respect to the condition of church property, you should also consider insurance coverage regarding the many volunteers that your churches uses during your church sponsored activities. All church workers, employees as well as volunteers, should be subjected to a thorough background screening. Volunteers who have frequent contact with children, the elderly, or people with disabilities should be held to a higher standard and background screening is useful in selecting the right people to assist in these various capacities.
Renting property: If your church rents space to someone in the church or community, it must keep the property in good condition. Repairs and maintenance must be done in accordance with your rental agreement or reasonable community standards. Make sure all work is properly inspected, and be sure to check references of outside contractors. Churches can carry liability insurance that essentially transfers the risk from the church to the organization that is renting the facility. For example, a church may require a homeschooling organization that uses its facilities to provide its own liability coverage and a hold harmless agreement to protect the church from incurring liability from the organization.
These are just a few of the issues that you need to consider when assessing your protection regarding church-sponsored activities. Your best course of action, however, is to regularly meet with your church insurance agent to review your policy. Yearly updates are recommended so that your coverage stays in keeping with the current activities of your church.