Whether it’s something relatively minor that stems from a misunderstanding or something serious like allegations of sexual abuse, no religious organization wants to face a lawsuit. A lawsuit requires countless hours, incredible costs, and significant risk of reputation – regardless of whether your organization is innocent or guilty. The question is, what do you do if your church is faced with a lawsuit?
Here’s How You Should Respond
Lawsuits are scary – there’s no doubt about it – but you don’t have any time to waste worrying about the future when your church is faced with legal action. Instead, all of your resources need to be poured into defending your organization. Here are a few specific things you should do:
1. Contact the Appropriate Parties
“First, immediately contact an attorney and any insurance company that may provide coverage for the claim and ask that the insurer provide coverage. This is known as ‘tendering’ your defense to an insurer, which may pay legal fees, any settlement, and any court judgment if the tender is accepted,” attorney John Kaempf advises. “Second, have an attorney determine if the claim may be untimely and barred by the statute of limitations.”
While you might feel like you can gather the board and figure out the situation without lawyers, don’t be reckless. The sooner you contact your attorney and discuss the issue with your insurance provider, the faster you can reach a resolution.
2. Gather Evidence
The next step is to work with your legal team and begin gathering evidence that will support your defense. Depending on whether the lawsuit is bogus or you’re actually at fault, this process will look different in every situation. The key is to avoid letting so much time pass that you aren’t able to gather the evidence you need to be successful in your negotiations.
3. Discuss Negotiations
The vast majority of lawsuits against religious organizations are settled outside of court. If you’re guilty – or the odds are against you being able to successfully defend the lawsuit – it’s smart to begin discussing negotiations as soon as possible. The quicker you can diffuse the issue, the better it’ll be for your organization. (Both financially and from a reputation standpoint.)
4. Pay Attention to PR
The financial and legal consequences of a lawsuit can be tremendous, but you also have your church’s reputation to worry about. Make sure you have a team of people paying attention to PR and helping to maintain a strong image throughout this tumultuous time.
5. Safeguard Against the Future
“The best quarterbacks in the country become the finest because they have unbelievable athletes protecting their blind side. When that protection breaks down, or that player gets injured, you will see a decline in the effectiveness of the quarterback,” Raul Rivera writes for StartCHURCH. “Similarly, that blind side for churches gets bigger as the laws of our country become more hostile. Who is covering your blind side?”
While it might not do a whole lot to help you with your current situation, now’s as good a time as any to focus on safeguarding your church against future lawsuits and legal troubles.
Make Sure You Have a Plan
It’s easy to feel like you’re invincible, or that nobody would want to target your church. After all, you do things the right way and don’t try to harm anyone or anything, so you just sort of assume that everyone will leave your organization alone. Unfortunately, we live in a trigger-happy society where people hand out lawsuits like flyers in a college cafeteria.
If you want to protect your organization’s best interests and avoid finding yourself in a compromising situation, make sure you have a proactive plan in place – even if you have every intention of keeping your nose clean.