We have had some bizarre religious injuries this week among both the Christian and Muslim faithful. In Newburgh, New York, David Jimenez was grateful to God for curing his wife of cancer, particularly he believed due to his devotion of a large crucifix outside the Church of St. Patrick in Newburgh. So he received permission to paint the crucifix to show his thanks, but it proceeded to fall and crush his leg in a rather mixed message. In the meantime, Muslims have reported a spate of injuries and deaths from people being trampled by animals during annual sacrifice Islamic rituals this week.
Jimenez’s leg had to be amputated after the crucifix collapsed. For months, the 45-year-old pizza worker prayed before the crucifix to cure his wife of ovarian cancer.
Notably, Jimenez now has a lawyer who has publicly stated that the 600-pound statue was improperly secured by a single screw in the base “The screw was useless. The screw is useless. It supported no anchoring system.”
His client has decided to sue after the archdiocese and its insurance company failed to pony up for the accident. While Jimenez still credits the crucifix with curing his wife, he does not view the accident as divine judgment but simply negligence. That could create a rather bruising trial. While the Church cannot argue the Will of God defense, the most likely defense is contributory or comparative negligence his cleaning and working on the crucifix as well as possibly assuming such risks. The question is whether he saw the limited support or indications of the precarious nature of his work before being injured.
A similar claim could be made with the slaughter ritual injuries this week, though they are occurring in countries with little tort liability. In the Gaza strip, a Palestinian man who was trying to slaughter a cow this weekend for Eid al-Adha when it killed him. The holiday commemorates the sacrifice by the Prophet Ibrahim (known to Christians and Jews as Abraham).
The 52-year-old man was trampled to death, and another three people were seriously injured by the cow. Some 150 people were hospitalized in the Palestinian territory with knife wounds or other injuries caused by animals trying to break away. Pakistan also reported such injuries, including a rampaging bull which did not like its role in the religious ceremonies.
Notably, as with the crucifix case, these rituals are often done in conjunction with local mosques and with their approval. The question is one of liability. The Muslim cases may offer greater defenses given the assumption of risk in dealing with animals as opposed to a standard construction or building case. However, in the U.S., there would be likely liability for any mosque organizing such events and allowing unskilled persons to participate. Indeed, it could be negligent per se in light of statutes limiting the butchering of animals.
Notably, in 1993, the Supreme Court overturned a Florida law barring the slaughtering of animals. In Church of Lukumi Babalu Aye v. City of Hialeah, 508 U.S. 520 (1993), the Court struck down a law in Hialeah, Florida that prohibited the “unnecessar[y]” killing of “an animal in a public or private ritual or ceremony not for the primary purpose of food consumption.” The Court ruled that the law targeted Santeria — a religion requiring animal sacrifice.