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Church Legal Center
Rev. John P. Joseph, Esq. CCA
1683 N Hancock Rd., Suite 103-315
Minneola, FL 34715
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Churches and Submersibles

Dear Clients and Friends,

It has been reported the passengers aboard the OceanGate’s Titan submersible signed waivers understanding the risk of injury or death before the trip. But those waivers may not protect the company. Waivers may work in cases of “simple negligence”, but they may not hold up if there is “gross negligence” which may be described as “wanton or reckless conduct.”

Over the coming months I anticipate much discussion about the CEO Stockton Rush and whether he ignored warnings of substandard industry standards with his vessel. It has been reported in the news some of the companies employees may have warned him. If the allegations are true, the question may be “was his denial or refusal to fix an act of simple or gross negligence”? It makes a difference.

“Could my decision result in an allegation of gross negligence”? This is a question every church leader should ask themselves when making important decisions. Similarly in a church setting if a pastor has been warned the person he or she is hiring or allowing to volunteer has offended or was negligent in the past its best to step back and consider the implications to proceed. Ignoring or disregarding warnings or information can be serious.

Like OceanGate, churches also use waivers. In a case where warnings are ignored, and the person causes harm, would a waiver protect the church? The Florida Supreme Court has already ruled that waivers may be ignored under certain conditions. So having people sign waivers may not stop a lawsuit. If the waiver is struck down the Complaint against the church will proceed in litigation and a jury may hear the case.

We will see in the coming weeks and months if OceanGate’s waiver protected the company from lawsuits by the passengers’ families. I doubt it.

A final comment. If the economic damages and/or injuries caused by the church volunteer or employee were a result of gross negligence on behalf of the church leadership then the church’s liability carrier may also not cover such a loss.

This too can be catastrophic.

In him.

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