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Illinois church service leads to near trampling

Illinois readers likely know about the doctrine of separation of church and state. Thanks to the First Amendment, religious establishments are not subject to censorship from government officials. Yet that freedom of expression may not extend to crowd control.

A personal injury at a recent church service in East St. Louis, Illinois gave rise to a lawsuit seeking $50,000 in compensation. The plaintiff had been a congregant at the service. The woman claimed that the church did not take adequate safety precautions, such as staffing enough ushers, to protect church members from the gesturing of other congregants.

In the woman’s case, she claimed that a churchgoer fell backwards, which caused several other members to fall on top of he woman. The woman’s lawsuit alleged injuries to her upper torso, head and neck. The church responded to the complaint with a motion to dismiss, claiming that the free exercise clause of the U.S. Constitution protected its manner of worship.

The parties eventually settled. However, the story serves as a good reminder that property owners might be expected take reasonable safety precautions, especially where accidents are foreseeable. In this case, the woman was not challenging the church’s religious practices, but rather claiming that it was negligent in its safety planning.

Adequate precautions can take many forms. In this case, it might have been staffing more ushers. In other contexts, it may mean hiring enough security guards to keep patrons or property safe. Perhaps an establishment simply needs to ensure that walking surfaces are smooth, accessible and allow enough room to avoid injuries or potential slip and fall accidents.

Source: madisonrecord.com, "Continuance requested in personal injury trial against ESL church," Christina Stueve Hodges, April 25, 2013

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