Q: How Might Our Ministry Be Liable For the Acts of an Independent Contractor? 

A: Your ministry is responsible for the actions of any person or organization to which it delegates authority.

When a ministry hires an independent contractor, or “agent,” the ministry may be held responsible for certain acts of its agent that cause harm to others.

However, because many jurisdictions only allow agency liability in very specific circumstances, plaintiffs’ attorneys do not rely heavily on this legal theory. Instead, ministries are more likely to face liability for “negligent selection” of a particular contractor.

Ministries also could be accused of not properly checking out the credentials, skill level, or competence of contractors prior to retaining their services. When successful, this legal theory bypasses the agency liability requirements by holding the ministry responsible only for its decision to hire the contractor rather than for the specific acts of the contractor.

Ministries may be accused of not properly checking out the credentials, skill level, or competence of a contractor prior to retaining their services. 

Talk with Your Attorney

Negligent selection and negligent retention are both legal theories that ministries should seriously consider and discuss with a locally licensed attorney. Because most insurance policies exclude coverage for intentional and malicious acts, ministries may face lawsuits alleging negligent selection and retention of contractors or employees in an attempt to collect compensation for damages that would otherwise be difficult to collect from the independent contractor who actually caused the injury or damage.

Ministries can significantly limit their liability associated with independent contractors by ensuring that a well-drafted, written agreement is entered into with the contractor. A qualified attorney should either draft or carefully review all such contracts to ensure that the ministry's interests are protected, and that the liability for contractor errors rests with the contractor rather than with the ministry. This sample agreement from Brotherhood Mutual can help your ministry and a locally licensed attorney get started.

Recommended Resources

For more information on this topic, see our complete list of questions about independent contractors.

*Important information: Brotherhood Mutual is pleased to provide Legal Assist as a complimentary resource. The services we offer through Legal Assist are intended to provide general legal information to our current and prospective policyholders.

The information we provide is intended to be helpful, but it does not constitute legal advice and is not a substitute for the advice from a licensed attorney in your area. Accordingly, no attorney/client relationship is created through this process, and no legal advice will be provided. We strongly encourage you to regularly consult with a local attorney as part of your risk management program.