Mission Trip Do’s and Dangers
Written by Attorney Sorin A. Leahu
If you work in ministry, you know that some of the most exciting times of the year involve mission trips and outings. These events, however, should not be rushed into without careful legal planning. Unfortunately, you can never fully remove the risk associated with these events, but you can plan accordingly should the unexpected happen.
The basic starting point for any trip or event should be the assumption of risk form. Adults who participate in these events should be required to sign a form assuming risks which are clearly described. Minors, on the other hand, cannot enter into contracts and therefore, the ministry should require parental consent and medical authorization forms instead. Before discussing these forms, it is important to note that assumption of risk forms are not a cure-all. These forms must be carefully drafted in order to be enforceable. And even if they are drafted correctly and are valid, they cannot guarantee that a ministry is fully relieved of every type of liability. For this reason, it is always important to consult with an attorney to ensure that an assumption of risk form is appropriate for the specific event. It is not advisable to use a standard form found online.
Because ministries cannot have parents sign assumption of risk forms for their minor children, churches and ministries should require parents to sign parental consent and medical authorization forms. These forms should specify which activities the parents are consenting to and what emergency medical decisions can be made for a child if the parent cannot be reached. As above, an attorney should be consulted to review the forms to ensure that they are legally valid and appropriate for the specific event.
Another helpful tip to consider before embarking on any trip with minors is to ensure that there is adequate adult supervision during the trip. Minors should never be left unsupervised, which may require several adults to be present in order to adequately supervise every minor at various places and times. In addition, the ministry should perform background checks on all adult supervisors and only select those who are responsible to supervise minors during the entire trip.
Finally, a church or ministry may also consider insurance coverage for the trip including any medical expenses or emergencies that may arise. For many, health insurance coverage does not automatically apply to overseas health needs. Participants may need to be advised to contact their insurance providers for additional insurance or the organizers may wish to purchase health insurance for the participants. For travel to certain high risk areas, the ministry may also consider insurance for evacuation or hostage situations.
The purpose of these precautions is not to discourage anyone from participating and attending mission trips or events. On the contrary, it is to provide peace of mind so that those participating can focus on the kingdom task at hand and to protect the ministry if something should go wrong. Attorneys at Mauck & Baker would be glad to carefully review or draft forms for your ministry’s upcoming trips.