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.
Jesus said, "Let the little children come to me." It is a sad state of affairs that given such a command we have to talk about a policy that protects kids. Nevertheless, year in and year out, the abuse of kids and vulnerable adults is the top reason why churches end up in court. Since churches get sued most frequently on this issue, the question isn't "why have an attorney review our child protection policy?" The question is, "why wouldn't you?" Here are a few good reasons your church needs a child and vulnerable adult protection policy written by an attorney.
- Your church needs a policy that protects children and vulnerable adults from sexual predators.
Let's start with the main reason you need a good child and vulnerable adult protection policy: sexual abuse in the church hurts the cause of Christ, especially when its victim is a child. The church should be a beacon of hope that points to Christ, not the object of criticism because church leaders did not have a good policy in place to protect kids when they know how prevalent sexual abuse in the church has been up until now. Your church must have a robust policy that does everything it can to prevent abuse from ever occurring.
Secondly, you need a policy that aligns with what most liability insurance companies want. Josh Bryant has experience working with insurance companies on obtaining supplemental sexual incident coverage that is not covered by most general liability policies. Insurance companies are in a great position to know how sexual abuse in the church has occurred in the past, and know exactly what kind of policies they want to see before underwriting an insurance policy.
Third, your church needs a policy that perseveres evidence that a defense attorney will want to present to a judge or jury in the event your church is sued after an allegation of sexual misconduct. Unfortunately, churches in which sexual abuse has occurred are more likely to be guilty until proven innocent, and the only things that proves innocence is evidence. You must preserve evidence as best you can, and Josh Bryant has experience in litigation such that he knows what kind of evidence is necessary.
Fourth, your church needs a policy that is as legally defensible as it is operationally manageable. No policy is worth the paper it is written on if the pastors and volunteers responsible for enforcing that policy don't do it. Most pastors and volunteers don't want to be insubordinate to church policy - they simply don't have the time to do much of what a policy requires sometimes. That is why it is important to have an attorney with experience not only in law, but in ministry as well. Josh Bryant can help balance the ministry needs with the legal best practices.
Finally, you need someone to help with your child protection policies like Josh Bryant, who has the experience necessary to get the job done well. When you sign up for our attorney access plan, this is usually one of the first policies that Church General Counsel will review.
It is so important to have a good child protection policy. Members can see more tips on drafting this policy in our members only area, or you can contact us for more information on how we can help you draft a good child and vulnerable adult protection policy.
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.