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When accidents happen – the difficulties of defending liability claims

As a specialist church insurer, Ecclesiastical has a vital role to play in working in close partnership with church customers to prevent accidents from happening. Over many years, we have developed bespoke guidance and advice through our expert risk surveyors to help reduce the number of such incidents.

Even so, accidents do happen and when they involve a visitor or parishioner on church grounds, they are traumatic for all concerned. The church warden may well know the injured person, making the situation more personal to them. When a claim is made against the Church for financial compensation, our role when investigating whether or not there is a legal responsibility can often trigger mixed emotions.

Dedicated team of experts

At Ecclesiastical, we have a dedicated team of experts who specialise in claims of this nature and even though investigating the accident is a detailed job, involving the gathering of as much evidence as possible, we have the right resources and skills available to ensure no stone is left unturned in our quest to establish the facts. This process provides clarity on whether or not the Church has done anything wrong or whether in fact it was just an unfortunate accident – because accidents do happen!

The decision to challenge a claim is never taken lightly and is done with the greatest respect and empathy for the injured person. As difficult as such a decision is, it is very important that we protect church customers from liability claims for which they are not responsible.

Repudiating a claim and ensuring it is done with consideration to everyone affected requires a specialist and detailed understanding of the very unique and specific needs of church customers. This is borne out of nearly 130 years of advising the Church and understanding their challenges.

Liability claim example

To give a recent example, a claim was brought by a member of the public against the Dean and Chapter of Rochester Cathedral for injuries sustained as a result of a fall in the grounds of the Cathedral in June 2010. The County Court found the Cathedral liable for the accident in contrast to Ecclesiastical’s view based on our investigations.

Working with the Cathedral, we appealed the County Court decision and had the finding of liability overturned by the Court of Appeal which concluded that while the accident was unfortunate, no one was to blame. The decision to take this to the Appeal Court was not taken lightly but we deemed it important to protect the interests of the Cathedral, which in our expert view had done nothing wrong.

In an ideal world, no accidents would happen. The reality is that they do, resulting in churches and cathedrals shouldering a significant burden. When accidents do occur, our church customers who are at the centre of so many communities need to be assured that we are there to protect them, carefully and supportively.

That’s why expert guidance and advice remain at the heart of what we do at Ecclesiastical.  Our specialist claims team can be trusted to do the right thing both by the Church and by the injured person, ensuring fairness to and respect for everyone, even in the most difficult of cases.

For more help, visit the risk management  pages on our web site.

Ecclesiastical Insurance Group plc (EIG) Reg No 1718196. Ecclesiastical Insurance Office plc (EIO) Reg No 24869. Ecclesiastical Life Ltd (ELL) Reg No 243111. Ecclesiastical Financial Advisory Services Ltd (EFAS) Reg No 2046087. Ecclesiastical Underwriting Management Ltd (EUML) Reg No 2368571. E.I.O. Trustees Ltd Reg No 941199. EdenTree Investment Management Ltd (EIM) Reg No 2519319. All companies are registered in England at Beaufort House, Brunswick Road, Gloucester GL1 1JZ. EIO and ELL are authorised by the Prudential Regulation Authority and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority and the Prudential Regulation Authority. Firm Reference Number 113848 (EIO) and 110318 (ELL). EFAS and EIM are authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority. Firm Reference Number 126123 (EFAS) and 527473 (EIM). EUML is an appointed representative of EIO who is authorised by the Prudential Regulation Authority and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority and the Prudential Regulation Authority. Firm Reference Number 402228.