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Church to pay for woman's fall while 'receiving the spirit'

An Illinois woman has settled a claim that her church should be liable for injuries she suffered when she fell during a service. The woman claimed that during a 2010 worship service, members of the congregation rushed forward to receive the spirit. The church had assigned ushers to catch people who fell in the process. They were not able to catch everyone, however.

According to the woman's premises liability lawsuit, the one member fell back and knocked other people into the woman. She lost consciousness and sustained injuries to her head, neck and back.

Her lawsuit claimed that the church did not provide a safe place to worship and had failed to control churchgoers as they moved to receive the spirit. The woman sought $50,000.

The church sought dismissal of the lawsuit. It argued that the woman was trying to hold the church accountable for the way it conducted the worship service. That, the church said, encroached on the church's ability to exercise its faith and practice its religious doctrine. The church argued that the free exercise clause of the U.S. Constitution guaranteed it the ability to decide its methods of faith without state interference.

Ultimately, the case settled out of court for $3,000. About $1,200 went to Medicare payments,  and the rest paid for legal costs. The woman was deceased by the time the lawsuit concluded.

As this case shows, premises liability claims may be complex. In addition to complex legal arguments, these cases can pose challenges with gathering appropriate evidence and proving the case. That's why experienced legal council is important.

Source: Madison-St. Clair Record, "East St. Louis church ordered to pay $3K for woman's fall as congregants rushed to 'receive the spirit'," Christina Stueve Hodges, April 25, 2013

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