How protected are members of your safety team?

The answer may surprise you.

By Craig Cable, Director of Ministry Safety and Strategic Partnerships

Preface: I would like to extend my sincere gratitude to the legal teams at Brotherhood Mutual and USSCA/Delta Defense, LLC for their assistance in helping me shed light on a topic that is often fraught with misunderstanding or misinformation. I attempted on several occasions to solicit input from U.S. LawShield, but I was unable to get a response.

Over the last few years, I have had the opportunity to speak with several thousand church safety team members across the country. By far the most common question I get from this group is “Am I covered if something bad happens?” This is not a question that only pertains to armed safety team members. Truth is, anyone who serves in the protection of a ministry should be asking that question. The purpose of this article is to help ministries be better informed and more prepared in advance of an incident occurring.

What happens after an incident?

The answer to that question largely depends on the severity and extent of the incident. In most states, safety team members are protected by laws that afford them the right to defend themselves and others from harm. The challenge is that their response must be reasonable and proportional to the threat. Regardless of the circumstances, there will always be an investigation but it’s not a foregone conclusion that the safety team member will be charged. If they are charged, a criminal court will determine if their actions were lawful or not. If the actions are deemed lawful, the charges will most likely be dropped. If the court decides that their actions weren’t lawful, the individual stands the chance of being convicted. This process could take months or even years. Regardless of the criminal decision, the individual as well as the ministry can still be sued civilly. In a civil case, the threshold of guilt is based on the ponderance of evidence. This only requires showing a 51% likelihood of guilt in order to win a civil trial.

Recommendations:

  • Have a clear understanding of the laws in your state related to protecting people and property.
  • Make sure there is alignment between ministry leaders and the safety team members on how the ministry would like for the team to respond based on different types of incidents.
  • Make sure that all members of the team have received training on how to respond to the various incidents that a ministry may encounter.
  • Make sure that all members of the team understand what to communicate to law enforcement or document in a written statement. All of this is admissible in court and may be used against you.  In addition to conversations with law enforcement, care should also be taken in what is communicated to reporters or anyone else for that matter.

What is the role of insurance after an incident?

In its simplest terms insurance is a transfer of risk. The ministry and/or the individual pays a premium and the insurance company shares in the risk by paying claims. The challenge is there are stipulations within the insurance policy that determine if a claim will be paid. This is where the ministry and the individual need to be very clear about what is included in the coverage and what is excluded.

When it comes to Brotherhood Mutual, our desire to put on all policies a special endorsement called Security Operations Liability Coverage. This endorsement was created to not only protect the ministry but to extend liability coverage to all members of the safety team, volunteers, and staff who have been given the “delegated authority” to act on behalf of the ministry. Additionally, this coverage extends to members of the team serving at ministry-sponsored events held offsite. This coverage does not extend to bystanders who of their own volition are involved in an incident.

When it comes to individual self-defense insurance taken out by the team member, the two providers I most often come across are USCCA/Delta Defense, LLC and U.S. LawShield. Both companies are reputable, and I’ve heard good things about each of them. The one I am most familiar with is USSCA/Delta Defense, LLC., because they’re the one I have chosen for my self-defense insurance. In addition to the standard liability coverage, they cover expenses incurred in the legal representation for both the criminal investigation as well as any civil proceeding. They can also provide up to a $1,000,000 bond and $750 per day for time off from work if the insurer requests help in the defense. In addition to insurance coverages, they also offer a ton of training resources and articles that help their customers stay informed and better trained. All that said, I think the biggest benefit that USCCA/Delt Defense, LLC provides for me is their Critical Response Team, which is comprised of case managers manning the phones 24/7/365. This specialized team is uniquely suited to help their customers navigate their interactions with law enforcement and assist in the process of mounting a defense. While Brotherhood Mutual’s claims process can provide coverage for the ministry and the individual, I think there is a huge benefit in knowing that USCCA’s/Delta Defense LLC’s experts in self-defense cases can also begin providing guidance immediately after the incident. Both Brotherhood Mutual and USCCA/Delta Defense, LLC can work in tandem with one another to ensure that the ministry and the individual are protected.

Recommendations:

  • Make sure that the ministry and the individual have adequate insurance coverage protecting all potential liability exposures.
  • Legitimize the safety team by creating policies and procedures to help guide their actions.
  • Have documentation that lists the names of the safety team members who are authorized to act on behalf of the ministry. If they have a specific role on the safety team such as armed or unarmed, document that as well.

What are some of the ways I may not be covered?

It’s important to know that an exclusion on all insurance policies is that coverage cannot be extended if the team member’s actions were unlawful. What that means is that if law enforcement and the courts believe that the team member was the aggressor in the incident or that their actions were excessive and unreasonable, they will most likely be prosecuted and charged. If that happens, insurance will not cover any further legal fees in the criminal case or defend the individual in the subsequent civil case.

For ministries that aren’t insured with Brotherhood Mutual, there is a good chance that members of the safety team are excluded from the general liability policy. And in the case of some insurance carriers, even having an armed safety team can be grounds for canceling the entire insurance policy. Brotherhood Mutual not only understands the unique challenges facing ministries today but has created ministry-specific coverages that will help safeguard your ministry in an increasingly litigious world.

When it comes to personal self-defense coverage, be aware that some exclusions may limit coverage for a safety team member. For example, when it comes to USCCA/Delta Defense, LLC, if the team member receives any monetary compensation in exchange for their security services, they would most likely be excluded from coverage. However, the individual would still most likely be covered under Security Operations Liability because Brotherhood Mutual does not exclude compensation. Additionally, the USCCA/Delta Defense, LLC insured members may still be able to take advantage of the Critical Response Team despite the monetary compensation exclusion. That is because the expenses associated with that team’s response may get picked up in the Brotherhood Mutual claims process. To me, this is a great example of how these coverages can work in tandem with one another.

Recommendations:

  • Review the safety team’s policies and practices to make sure they clearly state what are the ground rules for their delegated authority.
  • Become very familiar with your ministry’s insurance policy and its inclusions and exclusions.
  • Look for any gaps in coverage that may be putting your ministry and the safety team at risk.
  • Have regularly scheduled and documented trainings for your safett team.

For anyone who carries a concealed firearm, I encourage you to download this Free Concealed Carry Guide from the USCCA.

If you have any questions about what is included or excluded in any of your Brotherhood Mutual policies, please reach out to your American Church Group agent or our Client Support Team at Clientsupport@americanchurchgroup.com. If you’re interested in learning more about self-defense coverage offered by USCCA/Delta Defense, LLC, please visit https://my.usconcealedcarry.com.

Look for “Part Two” of this article which is scheduled to come out in February 2024. The content will primarily focus on the risks associated with having an armed safety team. The article will provide you with a variety of ways to help mitigate risk by incorporating best practices.

In addition to his role with the American Church Group of Colorado, Craig Cable is a sworn peace officer and serves as a Reserve Deputy Sheriff for the patrol division at the Larimer County Sheriff's Office. He has trained hundreds of security team leaders and volunteers and was the lead developer of the Safe and Secure & Church: The Ministry Approach training kit produced in partnership with Group Publishing and Brotherhood Mutual Insurance Company.  

 If you have further questions about protecting your ministry, please feel free to reach out to Craig at ccable@americanchurchgroup.com.    

©2024 American Church Group of Colorado, LLC. All rights reserved. The information in this article is intended to help your ministry better understand issues of vulnerability and mitigate risks. It does not constitute legal advice between an attorney and a client. If specific legal advice is required, your ministry is encouraged to consult with a local attorney. Neither Brotherhood Mutual Insurance Company, American Church of Colorado, LLC, nor the author assumes liability for reliance upon the information provided in this article.

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