Is Pokemon Go a Liability for our Church?

A new trend has hit the streets, literally. Pokémon Go, a new game for iOS and Android devices was released in early July 2016. Developed around the Pokémon card game, this new game allows players to walk around town with a mobile device and catch Pokémon near them using the device’s camera. 

In just a short time, this game has become a widespread phenomenon. However, due to the nature of the game, some Pokémon players may end up on private property. We received the following question from one of our church customers concerning Pokémon Go on private property: 

Question – I found out last night that something near the north side of our church building is in the Pokémon Go game. I noticed a number of people driving into the parking lot, then driving into the north most parking section, and then leaving. This happened about six times over the course of 20 minutes. It has been repeated many times since then and we have VBS this week, so our parking lot has been full. Does this pose any sort of liability risk to us? 

Eric Spacek, GuideOne's Risk Management and Loss Control Director, provided some insight on this concern:

Answer – Yes. Technically, it is trespassing for people to come onto private property for this purpose. Much like the issue of skateboarders or ‘outsiders’ wanting to use the church playground, the church has options available to address this issue. Options include: 

  1. Understand what is on your property. Someone who has downloaded the game should be able to determine what objects from the game are on the church property before entering the property. Depending on the distance, the player does not always need to be on the property to catch the Pokémon. 
     
  2. Signage. This can run from the typical ‘no trespassing’ sign to signs as creative as the church wants to be. I’ve seen one from a church with the Pikachu character saying something along the lines of, “Pokémon trainers must not trespass on private property.” 
     
  3. Security/law enforcement. If the church sees it as a safety issue, particularly during VBS, they can position a security volunteer or request law enforcement to be near the location of the object to advise users that it is trespassing for them to be on the property for this purpose. Note that in most states, trespassers are owed the lowest duty of care so the liability risk is fairly low. This is also true considering that the level of physical activity by the game player is low as well. 
     
  4. Outreach. This could be viewed as a unique opportunity to reach the community. While some churches view it as an annoyance, others are using it in their outreach efforts. One church learned that an area of their property was a charging station for the game so they decided to provide water and information about their church to the players who went to that area. Giving the relatively low liability risk associated with the activity, they were not overly concerned with this approach. 

Pokémon Go and its players can be a concern for your church, but they also provide some opportunities. As a church, meet with your board or safety and security team to decide the best way for your church to handle this new game. 

© 2018 The GuideOne Center for Risk Management, LLC. All rights reserved.This material is for informational purposes only. It is not intended to give specific legal or risk management advice, nor are any suggested checklists or action plans intended to include or address all possible risk management exposures or solutions. You are encouraged to retain your own expert consultants and legal advisors in order to develop a risk management plan specific to your own activities.