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    By: Ron Ponzoli, Chair, Religious Organizations Practice Group 

    WEST PALM BEACH, FL – January 4, 2019 – When deacons and deaconesses take it upon themselves to make church repairs, the Church becomes exposed should a parishioner or an invitee get injured because the repair work was poorly done.  How can you minimize this exposure? Hire an independent contractor.

    Florida law provides that a landowner who hires an independent contractor to make property repairs is typically not liable should someone get injured as a result of poor workmanship by the independent contractor.  Additionally, should a person on the Church property be injured while the independent contractor is performing the repairs, the Church will typically not be responsible for the injury (i.e. a ladder falls and injures someone during roof repairs).

    Hiring an independent contractor sounds easy:  Find a contractor who does the needed repairs and hire that person to do the work.  Most of the time, it is this simple.  But where property owners get themselves into trouble and lose the protection of the law regarding independent contractors is in the area of “control”.  If the Church is exercising sufficient control and direction over how the contractor performs the repairs, the contractor can lose the status of an independent contractor, making the Church liable for the contractor’s negligence.

    What is “control” over the actions of a contractor that could undermine the protections afforded with respect to independent contractors?  Instructing the contractor on how to perform the repair work can be a big problem for a landowner.   Setting the scope of work is not a problem and is expected of a landowner hiring an independent contractor.  However, exercising control over how the work is performed by dictating the method and manner of performing the repair is just the type of control that can destroy the protection afforded a landowner hiring an independent contractor.  This control piece underscores why it is unwise to simply have a Church volunteer do the work, and then pay the volunteer some monies for their time. The question of whether the Church was controlling the actions of the volunteer will exist, regardless of the fact that the volunteer was paid.  A best practice is to formally hire by way of written contract the person or entity who is doing the work, establishing in the contract the fact that the laborer is an independent contractor.  GrayRobinson can help you craft these contracts, and can review for accuracy a contractor’s proposed contract.

    Volunteer service is a big part of a Church community.  However, when it comes to repairs, the best practice is to hire an independent contractor, and then stay out of the contractor’s way when the repairs are being performed.

    Remain informed of legal issues affecting all manners of religious organizations by visiting the Religious Organizations Law Blog.


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