Religious institutions throughout the world have come under intense legal scrutiny because of a wide variety of controversies. For example, the Roman Catholic Church has settled hundreds of sexual abuse cases, while the Episcopal Church has found itself at the center of property disputes. Both the Episcopal and Roman Catholic churches provide us with examples of a church lawsuit definition.
The legal battles fought by religious institutions raise an interesting question that concerns the United States Constitution. Does the First Amendment, which protects religious liberty, also protect religious institutions against civil lawsuits. Courts have issued mixed rulings about church lawsuit definitions, but the trend appears to be that religious institutions can be sued if the legal dispute qualifies as a church lawsuit.
The unclear church lawsuit definition can be troublesome for a law firm that has little, if any experience litigating cases against a religious institution. However, the experienced attorneys at Morgan & Morgan understand what qualifies as a church lawsuit, as well as how to litigate a case against a religious institution.
If you have a dispute with a religious institution, contact Morgan and & Morgan to learn about what constitutes a church lawsuit definition.
What Are the 3 Most Common Reasons for a Church Lawsuit?
You are not going to find a definition of a church lawsuit in any legal document. Nonetheless, we define a church lawsuit by presenting three common reasons to sue a religious institution.
Sexually Abusing a Minor
Abuse of any kind is a serious crime that should require the legal expertise of a criminal defense lawyer. You should also consult with a personal injury attorney because you want to recover just compensation for pain and suffering. Sexual abuse of a minor is an especially egregious crime if church leaders knew about the abuse, but did nothing to stop it. Victims of abuse of any kind have the right to file criminal charges, as well as initiate a civil lawsuit that seeks monetary damages.
In many cases of sexual abuse, religious institutions did not take adequate measures to screen both employees and volunteers.
Churches that own a property owe a duty to provide reasonable care to prevent injuries to any visitors. If you suffered an injury while on church property, the church might be legally liable for compensating you for diagnosing, treating, and rehabilitating the injury. If a condition on a church property caused your injury, you have a better chance of getting a judgment in your favor.
Church liability also depends on the seriousness of the defendant’s conduct. For instance, if a church knew about a cracked sidewalk, but did nothing to repair the crack, the church might be legally liable for any injuries the cracked sidewalk caused. Liability can also be attributed to the nature of the activities that take place on church property, as well as the actions that were taken by a third party.
A property dispute is one of the most complex legal issues for a religious institution, particularly for churches that have a long history of operating on the same parcel of land. If a title problem does not get resolved, selling land or using it as collateral for a loan might be difficult to do. Another type of property dispute that often arises involves a religious institution expanding its property into someone’s private property.
Two churches that use the same place of worship might also get embroiled in a legal dispute. The owner of the property leases worship space to another religious institution. The church that rents space for worship might have maintenance issues that it wants the owner of the church property to fix. If a lease agreement does not allow the tenant to get out of a lease because of a negative decision the landlord made, then the tenant might force the landlord's hand by filing a civil lawsuit.
What Are the Most Common Types of Church Accidents?
Despite the publicity given to sexual abuse cases, the most common church lawsuit definition involves personal injury cases. Just as a business might be liable for an injury suffered on its property, a religious institution can be held legally liable in personal injury cases. Many of the same types of personal injury incidents that occur on business properties also occur on the properties owned by religious institutions.
Slip and Falls
Most injuries at any venue that is open to the public result from a slip and fall incident. Slippery floor surfaces, as well as ice and snow, cause many slip and falls that can lead to emergency care at the nearest healthcare facility. In addition to slick floor surfaces, uneven flooring, loose stair railings, and objects on the ground also contribute to visitors falling at religious institutions.
The following injuries can result from a slip and fall incident:
- Head trauma
- Fractured arm and/or wrist
- Bruised hip
- Back strain
If you slipped and fell while on church property, you should contact one of the personal injury lawyers at Morgan & Morgan. We conduct thorough investigations that determine the legal liability of religious institutions.
Motor Vehicle Accidents
Many churches welcome large congregations, some of which arrive in larger vehicles such as vans and buses. Because worshippers arrive around the same time for services, a significant amount of traffic can turn a quiet Sunday morning into a vehicle accident scene. Whether the church is legally liable or not depends on a few factors.
First, we will determine whether the church has placed clear directional signs on the parking lot. Second, the size and location of parking spaces can be a factor in causing a car crash. Third, the church should have placed several maximum speed signs at easy-to-see spots within the parking lot. Finally, the condition of the lighting system might play a role in causing a vehicle accident on church property.
Churches operate on tight budgets, which means there might not be financial resources available to replace old furniture. Budget constraints can also force religious institutions to stick with pews that have outlived their usefulness. Defective furniture can cause a wide variety of injuries, some of which can be serious enough to warrant immediate medical care.
A chair that buckles can produce bruises just about anywhere on the body, as well as a fracture in the arms. Outdated pews might collapse, which can cause serious hip, neck, and/or back pain. Other potential defective furniture candidates include collapsing tables and malfunctioning podiums.
How Do I Handle Sexual Abuse at a Church?
Anyone who has received unwanted attention or advances is considered a victim of sexual abuse. Secondary victims can include friends and relatives of the victim. Sexual abuse generates a considerable amount of shame, which often leads victims to conceal their pain. If you suffer from the sexual abuse that occurred at a religious institution, you should immediately get in touch with local law enforcement, as well as a sexual assault and personal injury attorney.
How you handle sexual abuse that occurred at a church determines the outcome of your case. The first thing to do is never return to the church where you experienced sexual abuse. Church leaders might try to convince you not to contact the police and initiate legal action. Second, contact a sexual assault lawyer to determine how to proceed with your case. While a sexual assault attorney handles the criminal charges associated with your case, a personal injury lawyer addresses the civil action that can lead to a judgment for monetary damages.
You should also seek counseling, as sexual abuse is one of the most traumatic crimes perpetrated on victims. Processing your feelings by talking to a trained counselor can help you regain your self-respect. Compensation awarded in a civil lawsuit can provide you with the financial resources to pay for quality mental health care.
What Legal Liability Do Religious Institutions Have With COVID-19
COVID-19 has expanded the church lawsuit definition. A majority of religious institutions had to shut down at the height of the pandemic because of the lockdown orders established by state and local governments. Once they reopened, churches also opened the legal door to litigation. If you contracted COVID-19 and you believe it was because a religious institution failed to implement measures to protect your health, you might have enough evidence to file a civil lawsuit for negligence.
Proving negligence in a personal injury case requires following four steps.
- Establishing duty of care
- Proving the breach of duty
- The breach of duty must have caused the damages
- There must be confirmed damages
Protect Your Rights by Contacting Morgan & Morgan
The definition of a church lawsuit typically is filing a civil lawsuit against a religious institution. Churches have to contend with many of the same factors that businesses contend with when it comes to on-site accidents that cause injuries. The unique component of the church lawsuit definition involves the sexual abuse of a minor. This type of personal injury exceeds the seriousness of every other type of personal injury case.
Morgan & Morgan works hard for clients that have suffered from sexual abuse, personal injuries, and the loss of property because of the actions or lack of actions taken by a religious institution. If you feel a church is legally liable for causing damages, you should speak with one of the personal injury attorneys at Morgan & Morgan. Because of the statute of limitations for the filing of a civil lawsuit, you should act with a sense of urgency by scheduling a free case evaluation.