Plaintiff’s Case Didn’t Have a Prayer - Church Wins Summary Judgment

In New York, religious intuitions are not exempt from the duty to maintain real property in a reasonably safe condition so as to prevent the occurrence of foreseeable injuries.   

In Morris v Saint Francis Cabrini R.C. Church the Plaintiff sought to recover damages for injuries allegedly sustained at the Saint Francis Cabrini RC Church while attending a Saturday mass.  Plaintiff’s claim focused on the Church’s alleged negligence in maintaining a kneeler in one of the Church's pews.

The court granted the Church summary judgment dismissing the complaint and holding the Church had demonstrated sufficient proof that the kneeler in question was not defective, and that the Church neither created nor had actual or constructive notice of the allegedly defective kneeler.  The Church put forth a plethora of evidence regarding the inspection and repair of the kneelers inside the Church.  The court also specifically pointed to the deposition testimony of the Church’s priest who testified that the Church was cleaned every Friday, and that there were no reports of any defective kneelers the day before Plaintiff’s accident.  The Church also set forth evidence that the Church’s priest, maintenance man, and business manager all examined the allegedly defective kneeler two days after the accident and found no defect.  Moreover, the court pointed to Plaintiff’s own deposition testimony wherein she testified that she never complained to the Church about the kneeler being defective or dangerous, and that she continued to sit in the same pew where the accident took place without further incident during subsequent masses at that Church.    

In opposition, the Plaintiff put forth an affidavit from a party who did not witness the accident and an affirmation from Plaintiff’s attorney.  The court was not swayed by the Plaintiff’s submissions, finding the affidavit from the party who did not witness the accident “merely raise[d] feigned issues of fact unsupported by [the Plaintiff’s] own description of the [accident]” and that an affirmation from an attorney having no personal knowledge of the facts is insufficient to raise a triable issue of fact to defeat a motion for summary judgment. 

Despite the seriousness of Plaintiff’s injuries, there was a mountain of evidence in the Church's favor that Plaintiff could not be overcome. The court essentially concluded that sometimes an accident is just an accident, and it would be too speculative to blame the Church.