by Josh Bryant
Churches sometimes suffer damage. Weather, vandalism, busted water pipes - all have the potential to do a lot of damage to your church. Hopefully, you have good insurance to help you recover but some insurance companies will do everything they can to keep from paying for damages. When that happens, the church's recourse is to pay for the damage itself or take the matter to court.
You can't wait to do things right because you don't know whether the case will go to court until much later. If it goes to court, you will inevitably need an expert witness to describe how the damage occurred. Courts typically follow what's called the "Daubert Rule" in determining whether a person is qualified to testify as an expert. Here are four things churches must review when bringing a contractor in to review the damage to help ensure that person can later be certified as an expert witness.
The contractor must be properly educated. Where did the contractor go to school? Did the contractor have any kind of apprenticeship? If there is structural damage, does the person have an engineering degree and Professional Engineer (PE) credential? What courses or continuing education seminars have they taken specific to the type of damage that your church has suffered? How have they kept their skills up? Have they ever spent time teaching others in their craft? These are all important questions to which you need to have answers to show the expertise of the contractor or engineer.
Your contractor or engineer must have a good deal of experience. How long have they been in the field? How many cases have they worked with damage similar to the damage your church has suffered? How many cases have they worked in which the damaged property was constructed in the same way your church was built? If your contractor or engineer does not have a good bit of experience, they will not qualify as an expert.
You need to know how your contractor or engineer will assess the damage. When you find out, Google it. If you don't find anything online about how to go about those methods, those methods may not be reliable. If you find others who are using those methods then you may be able to assume that those methods are reliable. The ultimate question is whether others in the industry acknowledge those methods as reliable to gather the necessary facts to reach an expert conclusion.
Your contractor's schedule will be important. You can't wait for your contractor or engineer to review the damage. The more time that passes, the more that other things could work to cause or make the damage worse.
Church General Counsel Managing Attorney Josh Bryant, J.D., M.Div., authors most of the posts in this section. From time to time, he will post articles from others in the field of church growth, administration, and operations.