Verdict against minister who acted with malice is upheld by Supreme Court
Judith Dadd attended an Assembly of God Church near Lansing where parishioners gather at the altar to be prayed over by the minister, one David R. Williams. Apparently, if the "spirit moves them" enough when Williams prays over them, congregants fall over backward and collapse in a heap. Ushers are present to cushion the fall, but their belief system holds that they won't suffer injury in any event. Something went haywire for Dadd, however, who wasn't caught and suffered a head injury when she struck the floor.
When Dadd asked the Church's insurance to help cover her medical expenses, it limited its assistance to the medical co-pay of $5,000.00. Dadd then brought a civil claim alleging the ushers were negligent in not protecting her when she was "slain in the spirit" and fell over backwards.
Williams showed true piety and Christian grace in his response to the suit. He preached that Dadd had "renounced her faith for mammon" and sent church members a letter "forcefully denouncing Dadd's moral and spiritual character" and asserting that she would be prosecuted for insurance fraud. She amended her lawsuit to include allegations of defamation of character and false light invasion of privacy. Ultimately, the jury awarded her a verdict on all counts, but the Court of Appeals set part of the award aside, concluding that Williams enjoyed a "qualified privilege" to assassinate Dadd's character.
This week the Supreme Court overturned the lower court's decision. It noted that the jury found Williams guilty of actual malice and that a finding of malice would automatically eliminate the qualified privilege that Williams enjoyed as the leader of his congregation to speak on matters involving the corporation. Sometimes civil procedure isn't so civil, we guess.