In a recent incident, the individual members of a church board were personally sued for losses that occurred at their church. The lawsuit was a result of an incident that occurred at the church between a minor and an individual known to be a past sexual offender. Prior to this instance, the church did not have a policy concerning sexual offenders or predators, leaving the church and its board members unprotected.
Board members are a strong asset to your church as well as significant contributors. They volunteer time, offer guidance, and contribute talents that are invaluable. However, board decisions can potentially result in liability issues not only for the church, but for individual board members.
Some states provide charitable immunity for volunteers. The purpose of this law is to encourage volunteers to serve by reducing their liability exposure while serving on the board of the charitable organization. Volunteers are usually defined as people providing services for a charitable organization (such as a church) who do not receive any compensation for their service(s) in excess of reimbursements for expenses that they incur. Members of a church board are included in this definition and, therefore, covered by the charitable immunity laws. Check your state laws to see if they provide charitable immunity and if your state’s definition of “volunteer” covers members of a church board.
In most states, however, this immunity does not apply to any act or omission that is intentional, willfully negligent, or committed with disregard or indifference towards the safety of others.
In the opening example, the church and each of it’s board members were individually named because the church did not have a policy concerning sexual offenders. The plaintiff alleged that the church board failed to provide and enforce a sexual offender policy after knowing a sexual offender attended the church and that constituted gross negligence since the omission was without regard for the safety of others.
Members of a church board should use common sense. In addition, the church should provide its board members protection with a Directors, Officers, and Trustees (DOT) insurance policy. Surprisingly, this is not an automatic coverage in most insurance policies. Double-check your current policy to ensure that you have this coverage. In addition to paying for claims that arise out of the scope and operation of a church board, this insurance covers the cost of legal fees if and when a claim arises. Furthermore, remember that board members can be sued individually. It is imperative that your church has enough DOT insurance to protect the assets of ALL the members of your board.
You need the talents of the best and brightest people on your board. Make sure you protect them by initiating proactive practices for all board proceedings and by providing them coverage with a proper Directors, Officers, and Trustees insurance policy. For more information regarding protecting your church against liability issues, contact AGFinancial Insurance Solutions at 866.662.8210.