13 Jun 5 things every church should do to avoid a lawsuit
In today’s legal landscape, it is not uncommon for churches to find themselves on the receiving end of a lawsuit. How well does your church handle the following issues that can result in litigation against churches?
- Screen and Train Volunteers. Bad things happen, even in very good churches. It is absolutely necessary to make sure your volunteers, especially those working with minors, have undergone background checks and are properly trained in their duties and responsibilities. Are your volunteers competent in First Aid? Is there a procedure in place for dropping off and picking up children? Do you have volunteers that know how to handle food allergies? What is the protocol for dealing with a fire or other emergency?
- Maintain Safe Facilities. Not maintaining church property in a safe condition is a top reason churches find themselves in a lawsuit. Are the facilities clean and free of tripping hazards? Are any sharp objects or dangerous chemicals within reach of children? Do doors get locked when rooms are not being used? Is their adequate lighting inside and outside the church? A lawsuit is all too likely to result when someone gets injured from an unsafe condition that the church failed to correct.
- Prevent Misuse of Church Vehicles. Motor vehicle accidents happen every day, and church vehicles are not immune. Every church that owns any type of automobile should have a well-drafted policy explaining who can use the vehicles and for what purposes. Keys to all vehicles should be properly stored and not turned over to anyone who fails to meet insurance requirements. Church members should never be allowed to borrow church vehicles for personal transportation needs.
- Have Clear Policies and Follow Them. Like any organization, churches should have policies in place governing how the church operates. Everything from personnel issues, to how members are accepted and dismissed, to how money is handled need to be explained in writing. While lawsuits by disgruntled church members are rare (as they should be), these types of claims will often be thrown out by a court if the church can show that it acted consistent with its policies.
- Honor Copyright Laws. Copyright violations are extremely common in our society, but churches must be extra careful to follow the law. A Baptist church in Tennessee was recently sued for $150,000 plus attorney’s fees for playing music on its website the church did not have rights to use. This type of mistake is almost always innocent, but it can be a very expensive mistake! Copyright law is extremely complicated, and it is best to consult with an attorney before making use of anything that might be protected by federal law.
At Dozier Miller Law, we proudly represent churches and other religious institutions on a variety of legal matters.
Litigation attorney Adam Hocutt will conduct a complete review of your church policies and practices to determine where unnecessary legal risks might be found. In most cases, Adam is able to offer churches and other nonprofit entities greatly reduced rates from normal legal fees.