Church Vans

I posted this story over at, but it reminded me of many of the things about church vans that can become an insurance nightmare.

A terrible story out of Kentucky:
State police say the death toll has risen to 11 in a fiery crash between a tractor-trailer and a church van on northbound Interstate 65 in south-central Kentucky.

State police Trooper Charles Swiney says two children survived the crash.

A pastor for the family in the van says they were Mennonites from Kentucky on their way to a wedding in Iowa. Authorities say the truck driver was also killed.

Officials say the tractor-trailer crossed the median and struck the van head-on around 5:30 a.m. CDT near Munfordville.
When I was in the church insurance business several of the top losses in the history of the company had involved church vans. It doesn't appear to be the case in this accident, but it was often the driver's inexperience with that type of vehicle that led to the crash.

In one case I remember a youth pastor was driving a group of kids at night somewhere in the desert and decided to try and switch drivers without stopping. In the process they lost control of the van and rolled over. A girl from the church was killed and I think the company ended up paying over $250,000.

In another case a church preparing for a long trip took their van to a local tire shop. The shop said three of the four tires needed to be changed, but the other one was okay. Somewhere in New Mexico that other tire blew out causing the van to roll. One person was left with terrible permanent disabilities. The jury found the tire store faultless and held the church 100% responsible to the tune of $10 million. The church only had $5 million in insurance and ended up having to sell their property and almost everything they had to pay the judgment.

If your church has a van, especially a 15 passenger, you have to be very careful how those are operated. Too many times I've read stories where a group loaded all kinds of heavy stuff on the roof plus a full load of passengers and then had an incident where the vehicle got out of control. When you load the roof you raise the center of gravity and move it towards the rear of the vehicle, and that makes the front end a little goosey and makes a loss of control much more likely. For awhile there some church insurers wouldn't even insure 15 passenger vans.

Some states, like California, require a Class B Commercial license to operate any church vehicle with 10 or more seats, though many churches don't follow that law unless their insurer makes them or the CHP stops them. That's probably a good idea since going from a passenger car to a large van is not as easy a transition as you might think.