After four days of opening and closing arguments and testimony, a Kentucky jury took only four hours to determine that a church and its former youth minister were mostly responsible for the death of a 13-year-old boy. His estate was awarded over $2 million. How much of that they receive remains to be seen.
The 13-year-old was killed in 2009 in a single-car accident. The wreck occurred after 10 youths had gone on a camping trip with Derek Coulter, their youth minister from Big Springs Assembly of God. At first Mr. Coulter stated that he was driving with the victim and another passenger in his SUV when he swerved to hit a deer and ran off the road. Later, another teen passenger told authorities that Mr. Coulter had allowed the victim to the driver the SUV, and he caused the accident when he lost control of the vehicle and crossed the road. Mr. Coulter then recanted his initial story, leaving the victim’s loved ones to wonder if anything he told them about that day was true.
The boy’s family filed a wrongful death lawsuit in Kentucky requesting compensation for the death of their son from Mr. Coulter and the church. Church officials denied any responsibility, saying it was not a church function and that Mr. Coulter was not acting as an employee when the car accident occurred because it was his day off. The plaintiff’s attorney argued that the church was liable because every person who attended the camping trip was a church member, Mr. Coulter referred to it as church event during the victim’s funeral, and the kids were told they were not allowed to swear on the trip because it was a church outing. Also, statements showed that Mr. Coulter had allowed several other teens to drive his car in the church parking lot on various occasions, so the church should have known it was occurring and intervened.
The jury agreed with the plaintiff and awarded the estate $2.15 million. Part of this amount will be reduced because the jury found that 20 percent of the fault went to the victim because he knew he shouldn’t have driven the car but did it anyway. Mr. Coulter’s portion, which is about half of it, may never be awarded because he has no way to pay. The church carries insurance of at least $1 million, so the estate should receive at least part of the award, unless the church appeals the decision.