Church Lacked Sufficient Control to Be Liable for Injuries Caused by Unpaid Intern’s Auto Accident

Success in injury litigation involves several components. A successful outcome likely includes compelling facts and considerable credible evidence. In addition, a favorable outcome for an injured person also involves choosing the right person or entity to sue, especially when the injured person is trying to hold a person or entity not directly involved responsible for the accident. The rules regarding third-party liability substantially limit those who may be liable. For a woman injured in a 2011 auto accident, the Louisiana Court of Appeal ruled that the facts of her case did not allow her to extend liability to a Baton Rouge church for whom the other driver was interning when the accident happened, because the church did not maintain the required degree of control over the intern’s actions to create a “master-servant” relationship.

In January 2011, Ms. Cason was injured when her vehicle was struck in the rear by a vehicle driven by Mr. Saniford. When the accident occurred, Saniford was serving as an intern in Bethany World Prayer Center’s 220i internship program. That morning, Saniford was driving his mother’s vehicle and was picking up donuts for a prayer meeting at a local high school that he was to attend as part of his internship. The accident occurred while Saniford drove from the donut shop to the school.

Cason sued Saniford, Bethany World Prayer Center and Bethany’s insurer. The church and its insurer asked the trial to throw out the claims against them, arguing that Saniford and Bethany did not have the type of relationship necessary to impose legal liability for the crash on the church. The trial court agreed and granted summary judgment in favor of the church and insurance company.

Cason appealed, but the appeals court agreed that the church was not liable. For a third party like the church to be liable for the acts of someone like Saniford, the two must have what Louisiana law defines as a “master-servant” relationship. Louisiana’s standard for this type of relationship involves looking at several factors, including whether the servant was paid, the servant’s “status within the organization” and the degree of control the master asserts over the servant’s activities. Even an unpaid volunteer or intern can still be a servant if the organization had sufficient control over the volunteer’s duties.

In Bethany’s case, the church did not exercise enough control over interns like Saniford to qualify as his master. Saniford was not paid for his work, had no position within the organizational hierarchy of the church and, if he successfully completed the internship, no option existed to allow him to secure a permanent position at Bethany. Additionally, the accident occurred as a result of Saniford’s trip to the donut shop, which was not an essential duty of his internship but was a mere convenience performed to help the volunteer who organized that morning’s prayer meeting.

When it comes to auto accident injuries, a key aspect of pursuing recovery for one’s injuries is seeking compensation from everyone responsible for the accident, directly and indirectly. This means choosing which third parties to sue, and which not to sue. For the finest in advice and representation regarding your auto accident injuries, consult the Louisiana injury attorneys at the Cardone Law Firm right away to discuss your case. Our attorneys have the knowledge and experience you need to help you pursue your injury claims.

For your confidential consultation contact us online or phone Cardone at 504-522-3333.

More Blog Posts:

Fiery Crash on the Bonnet Carre Spillway, Louisiana Injury Lawyers Blog, June 17, 2014
Improperly Lit Truck Leads Jury to Award $2.8M Judgment, Louisiana Injury Lawyers Blog, Oct. 15, 2013

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