Visitor Question

Church liability after our mother was fatally injured from a fall down stairs?

Submitted By: Carl (Odenville, Alabama)

My 79 year-old mother was carrying a covered dish down the stairs into the church basement when she fell. She received massive head trauma from landing on a concrete floor and had to be airlifted to the hospital.

As a result of the head trauma she vomited and aspirated some of it into her lungs. As a result of that she developed pneumonia, eventually had to be put on a ventilator and never fully regained functional consciousness. She was in ICU a month before it was determined she would not recover and was brought home, where she died.

My sister and I have not yet met to discuss liability with the church. We have a history with this church since childhood but I DO NOT want that clouding our judgement on what we are owed for this tragedy.

How do we approach them? Should we bring a lawyer or does that show bad faith (pun intended)? I’m very torn about what we should expect from this.  Is the church liable for our mother’s death?

Thank you for any information you can provide to us.

Disclaimer: Our response is not formal legal advice and does not create an attorney-client relationship. It is generic legal information based on the very limited information provided. Do not rely upon the information in our response, or anywhere else on this site, when deciding the proper course of a legal matter. Always get a personalized case review from a local attorney.

Answer

Dear Carl,

We are sorry to hear of your mother’s unfortunate accident and her passing. The church may be liable for her death based on a negligence theory. We highly recommend that you seek a local attorney for advice and assistance.

Negligent Slip and Fall Case

Despite what some people may think, churches are not immune from liability when it comes to personal injury cases.

Religious institutions have a duty to protect worshipers and guests from harm. A failure to uphold this duty means that they are negligent and may have to reimburse people for any injuries.

Your mother’s situation presents a possible negligent slip and fall case.

A plaintiff must prove the following to succeed in a slip and fall claim against a church:

  • There was a hazardous condition on the church’s property
  • Church personnel knew, or should have foreseen, the hazardous condition
  • Church personnel failed to prevent or correct the hazardous condition
  • The hazardous condition caused harm to a person

Here, your mother was obviously injured when she fell down the stairs. It’s a little tricky, though, to immediately conclude that the church knew of a hazardous condition and failed to correct it. We’d need to learn of more facts to properly advise on these important points.

However, it’s entirely possible that there was a hazard, and the church did nothing about it.

For example, your mother was carrying food down the stairs. If this was a potluck, then maybe some food fell on the stairs, and this is what your mom slipped on. If so, and church personnel knew this, but did nothing about it, then you might have a solid case.

The weather also creates slippery stairs. If it was raining out, people might have tracked water into the church. Perhaps this made your mom slip. Again, if the church was aware that the weather created a hazardous condition, and didn’t act, you may have a strong case.

Statute of Limitations

It sounds like the accident took place several months ago, if not longer. You must know that a statute of limitations applies to all personal injury lawsuits.

A statute of limitations is a period in which plaintiffs must file a lawsuit. If people fail to file within the statutory time, they give up the right to sue.

In Alabama, Section 6-2-38 of the Code of Alabama sets forth the applicable statute of limitations for personal injury cases. It’s two years. This means you must file a lawsuit within two years from the date of your mother’s accident.

Wrongful Death Suits

Given the facts of the case, you would want to bring a wrongful death action against the church.

A wrongful death lawsuit is an action filed in court that seeks monetary damages from an entity whose negligence caused another person’s death.

Plaintiffs in a wrongful death case can receive compensation for both monetary and nonmonetary losses.

Monetary losses may include:

  • Medical expenses
  • Funeral expenses
  • Grief counseling

Nonmonetary losses may include:

  • The loss of companionship suffered by family members
  • The loss of guidance and mentoring the decedent’s children must endure
  • Loss of love, nurturing, protection, and other varied emotional support

Attorneys Can Help in Complex Cases

We recommend you consult with an Alabama personal injury attorney to get assistance with this case. Some people can pursue slip and fall cases against churches on their own. However, this is typically only true for simple cases that involve relatively minor injuries.

There are several elements in your case that complicate matters. These include:

  • The current lack of evidence as to whether there was a hazardous condition on the church stairs
  • The fact that your mom passed because of the accident
  • A possible issue with regards to filing a lawsuit within the two-year period
  • The amount of damages that you may assert

Wrongful death cases, by their nature, are always complicated.  You won’t get far trying to handle a complicated claim on your own.

Learn more here: Claims Against Churches/Synagogues

The above is general information. Laws change frequently, and across jurisdictions. You should get a personalized case evaluation from a licensed attorney.

Find a local attorney to give you a free case review here, or call 888-972-0892.

We wish you the best with your claim,

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