Judge vacates $4.75 million judgment against church - Word&Way

Judge vacates $4.75 million judgment against church

TAMPA, Fla. (ABP) – A Florida judge said July 19 that a prominent Southern Baptist church does not have to pay $4.75 million in damages awarded last year to a man injured seven years earlier on a church-sponsored youth ski trip.

According to the Florida Baptist Witness, Hillsborough County Circuit Judge James Arnold vacated the judgment against Idlewild Baptist Church in Lutz, Fla., and ordered a new trial after finding out two jurors did not disclose during jury selection that they had been involved in prior litigation.

The judge viewed that as a breach of “the integrity of the legal system” and said the church is entitled to a new trial with an impartial jury.

After a seven-day trial last September, a jury awarded $5 million to a man identified only by initials claiming permanent injury lingering from injuries he suffered as a 14-year-old on the annual church-sponsored trip to Beech Mountain, N.C., in December 2003. The lawsuit claimed the boy’s mother relied on chaperones to see that her son –- who had never skied before -– received proper instructions on safety, but he managed to wander unsupervised onto an advanced slope where he lost control and crashed into another skier.

The jury found the mother, Kim Jones, also a plaintiff in the lawsuit, 5 percent liable and ordered the 11,000-member mega-church to pay the rest of the judgment. Ministry experts said the verdict could have a chilling effect on youth ministries and highlighted the need for church administrators to take a closer look at risk-management procedures.

John Campbell, an attorney for the church, told the Florida Baptist newspaper that the judge’s order could “significantly improve the chances for an out-of-court settlement” with the congregation’s insurance company.

Damian Mallard, attorney for the plaintiff, called the judge’s decision “erroneous” and said he planned to appeal.


Bob Allen is managing editor of Associated Baptist Press.