Liability insurance can help protect your ministry if someone is injured or suffers a loss connected to ministry activities — on or off your property. It can also help defend you if you or the people working in your ministry are sued, whether the suit arises out of injury to people or damage to property.
Coverage typically includes the cost of defending you in court — and any court awards or settlements — up to the limits of your policy.
What are Coverage Limits?
Liability limits determine the maximum amount that an insurer will pay on behalf of a ministry and its covered individuals if a liability claim is made. Michael Allison, chief counsel for Brotherhood Mutual, encourages you to look at the following four factors when selecting liability limits:
The likelihood of loss
The ministry's assets
The likely damages a court would award for a loss
The ministry’s “appetite for risk”
Four Factors to Consider
Let’s look at these four factors, recognizing that determining proper liability insurance limits isn’t an exact science. The extent to which your liability limits are sufficient will depend on the details of a specific loss and whether a plaintiff's attorney seeks to recover more funds than your insurance policy provides.
1. The likelihood of loss
Your ministry’s probability of getting sued depends on the scope of activities you offer, the number of participants, and how well you manage risks.
Let’s say that your ministry offers child, youth, and teen activities. Your chance of facing a sexual abuse claim rises in proportion to the number of young people involved in the ministry and the extent of programming. You can reduce the likelihood of loss in your ministry with a sound child protection program that includes both worker screening and appropriate supervision. Even if your program doesn’t prevent a loss, it can significantly reduce its claim value. Another activity that can decrease the likelihood of loss is regular safety inspections of your property.
Keep in mind that even a low level of ministry activity and great risk management preparation doesn’t mean that all losses will be eliminated. It simply means that the odds of a loss are reduced.
2. The ministry’s assets
A plaintiff’s attorney typically won’t pursue a liability claim beyond insurance proceeds if the ministry has no significant assets. Attorneys typically look for easy money, even when a claim involves clear liability. There is an exception, however, to this general rule. If a claim involves clear liability, damages greater than the insurance limits, and the ministry holds relatively liquid assets, a plaintiff’s attorney might be motivated to go after these assets. The greater your ministry’s liquid assets, the more likely it is that an attorney will seek additional funds.
3. The likely damages a court would award for a loss
A number of factors can affect court awards. Juries typically award higher amounts when foreseeable losses lead to significant injury. In addition, juries in some cities or regions are more prone to award higher damages than in others. When selecting liability limits, it’s a good idea to check with a local attorney to gauge the “judicial environment” in your area. The less favorable the judicial environment, the more likely it is that higher awards will be granted, and the greater the need for higher liability limits. It’s also important that your ministry takes safety seriously. This ties closely to the first factor: likelihood of loss. Having a sound risk management program at your ministry will reduce not only losses but also their claim value.
4. The ministry’s “appetite for risk”
Everyone has a differing view of risk. If your ministry is conservative, you may desire higher limits even though you’ve taken every precaution and have little in the way of liquid assets. Ministry leaders may simply sleep better at night knowing that higher liability limits are in place. Other ministries would rather pay less for liability insurance, maintain lower limits, and bear a greater risk that a claim will exceed the limit selected. Neither approach is right or wrong; it's just a matter of how decision-makers within the ministry view the risk of loss.
How to Decide?
It’s a good idea to discuss the insurance options you're considering with an independent agent who has experience working with ministries. A qualified agent can advise your ministry about the types of insurance required by law and how adjusting the liability limits can raise or lower your costs. Your agent can also explain the benefits of insurance coverage for such risks as employment practices liability, sexual acts liability, and directors and officers liability. Working with an experienced church insurance agent can help you to determine the liability coverage and limits that are right for you.
Updated November 14, 2019
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