In Big Spring Assembly of God, Inc. v. Stevenson, a youth minister for a church organized a camping trip with several teens. At one point during the trip, the minister took two children to his apartment in his personal automobile. While returning to the campground, the minister apparently allowed a 13-year-old to drive the vehicle. Sadly, the child lost control of the car and caused a wreck. The child died as a result of his injuries.
Before law enforcement officials arrived, the minister allegedly asked the surviving youth to state the minister was driving at the time of the fatal accident. The child initially complied with the minister’s request but later admitted to police that the deceased 13-year-old was behind the wheel when the crash took place. After that, the estate of the deceased child filed a vicarious liability lawsuit against the church that employed the minister and sought damages as a result of the organization’s alleged negligent hiring, retention, and supervision of the man. The decedent’s parents also sought damages for loss of consortium.
A trial court found that both the minister and the child committed negligence as a matter of law and asked jurors to apportion damages over the child’s death. Since Kentucky is a pure comparative fault state, the amount of damages an at-fault defendant is required to pay will normally be reduced by the percentage of fault attributed to the injured or deceased person. Although the jury determined the church was not vicariously responsible for the minister’s negligence because he was acting outside of the scope of his job duties when the deadly wreck occurred, it did hold the organization liable for its negligent hiring, retention, and supervision of him. As a result, jurors awarded the child’s estate $1 million in damages and attributed 80 percent of the fault to the minister’s actions. Since the jury found that the child was 20 percent to blame for his wrongful death, the damages award was reduced to about $800,000. The child’s parents also received approximately $60,000 for their loss of consortium claims.