Relevant Coverages

The following insurance coverages are relevant to a church’s lay counseling ministry:

General Liability Policy

Generally, this policy provides coverage for bodily injury and property damage that results from negligent acts of the insured. An insured may include the church and other named individuals such as ministers, church leaders, or ministry volunteers.

Counseling Acts Liability Coverage 

Insurance companies usually offer this coverage as an optional endorsement to a general liability policy. This special coverage provides liability protection against claims of bodily, emotional, or personal injury that result from the counseling acts of church pastoral or lay counselors. If volunteer lay counselors are part of your church’s counseling ministry, it’s important that you protect them with adequate insurance coverage. If your church provides professional counseling services on a fee basis, ask if your insurance company provides additional fee-based counseling coverage.

Coverage example: A well-meaning lay counselor shares confidential information from a counseling session with a member of the prayer team. He reveals the counselee is struggling with pornography and needs prayer. The prayer team member prays for the counselee at a meeting attended by the counselee’s wife. As a result of learning about her husband’s issue, the couple’s marriage becomes strained. The counselee later learns of the confidentiality breach and sues the lay counselor and the church for personal injury.

Sexual Acts Liability Coverage

Sexual Acts Liability Coverage protects against claims resulting from the alleged sexual misconduct of individuals involved in church activities and while performing their ministry duties. It also may provide specific coverage for certain damages resulting from an error in reporting a sexual act to law enforcement authorities. Usually, this coverage is offered as an optional endorsement to a general liability policy.

Directors and Officers Liability Coverage

Lawsuits against a church often name members of the church board as additional named defendants. While some federal and state laws may provide limited statutory immunity from liability for church officers, directors, and volunteers in some specific situations, there remains a significant risk that this immunity will not apply to a given situation. Usually offered as an optional endorsement to a general liability policy, Directors and Officers Liability Coverage provides liability protection and legal defense for financial damage claims that result from leadership decisions made on behalf of the organization.

Excess/Umbrella Liability Coverage

Generally, this optional coverage expands the financial limits of protection beyond those that certain primary liability insurance policies allow. Insurance companies may offer this coverage as an optional coverage endorsement to a general liability policy.

Professional Liability Insurance Policy 

Pastors and licensed counselors may have their own professional liability insurance policy. Coverage usually includes protection from claims made against them in their professional counseling duties for which they are licensed, certified, or trained. They should compare the coverage offered in their own professional liability insurance policy with the coverage included in their church’s insurance policy.

It is important to note that coverage decisions are made at the time of a claim and are subject to all policy terms, conditions, and exclusions.