Sad though it may be, churches are not immune to the threat of lawsuit. Indeed, the ever-increasing litigious nature of our society brings the courts into the business of churches at a rather alarming rate. This may lead churches to think that it is not a matter of whether a church is likely to get sued, but when. The question is: what should you do if you find your church suddenly subject to a lawsuit.
The first step if your church is served with a lawsuit is to immediately seek the advice of an attorney. There are deadlines for responding to a lawsuit, and seeking advice from a skilled church law attorney, like the church lawyers here at Provident Law, can ensure that the church is aware of its obligations and has a plan for how to respond to a lawsuit.
Next, you will want to notify your church’s insurance carrier of the lawsuit. Not every lawsuit will be covered by your church’s insurance but some will and your insurance carrier must be notified immediately of any claim brought against the church. Your insurance carrier will assess coverage and limitations and may even provide legal representation to help defend the lawsuit.
Additionally, your church will need to take steps to preserve any evidence that could be relevant to the lawsuit. Much of this information will be “electronically stored information,” referred to by lawyers as ESI. Your church must take steps immediately to stop the destruction of any ESI that may pertain to the case. Sending communications to church employees to not delete emails or other electronic documents is important as is ensuring that any procedure the church follows for archiving or destroying ESI is halted. If a church destroys evidence that is pertinent to the claim in the lawsuit—even if the destruction was inadvertent or done in the normal course of business—the church could hurt its defense to the lawsuit.
Finally, church directors and staff should be very careful what they say about the lawsuit to others both inside and outside the church. Any conversations or communications about the lawsuit that are not between the church’s attorney and the church or that are not protected by a legal privilege may be discoverable during a lawsuit. Your church may want to communicate with its members or others about the lawsuit but should seek legal advice about what communciations are appropriate.
Being in a lawsuit can be confusing and stressful—especially if your church has never been sued before.Provident Law’s church and nonprofit attorneys are here to help. We recognize how essential churches are to society and we stand ready to counsel and serve by providing litigation, broad transactional, and general counsel services. Contact us to learn more.