Church not protected from negligence claim because accident occurred in non-worship area, court rules

The Indiana Court of Appeals on Monday rejected an Evansville church’s argument that it was not liable for a volunteer’s injuries because it was protected by a state law that generally holds churches harmless in certain situations when accidents occur on church property.

The court ruled that the protections apply only to church property “used primarily for worship services.” The accident in which Gerard A. Kirsch says he was injured occurred in the summer of 2019 while he was building a shed on Calvary Temple Church property in Evansville that was to be used to store a church van.

Kirsch’s complaint, filed in Vanderburgh Superior Court, alleged that he fell while climbing a ladder, suffered a deep laceration to his arm which required surgery and has permanent nerve damage in that arm. He alleged the church was negligent in the accident. At the time, he was a member of the church’s board of trustees.

The church sought summary judgment, which the trial court court rejected. The appeals court affirmed the trial court’s decision.

“Here, in support of its summary judgment motion, Calvary did not designate evidence that the shed where Kirsch was injured was used primarily for worship services. Indeed, the evidence makes clear that it is otherwise,” Judge Paul Mathias wrote for the three-judge panel. “In any event, Calvary’s summary judgment motion turns solely on an interpretation of the statute that we reject.”

The case is Calvary Temple Church of Evansville Inc. v. Gerard A. Kirsch, 23A-CT-1728.

This article was first published in The Indiana Lawyer.

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