What in the World is Charitable Immunity?
All you know is that you suffered injuries through no fault of your own. Maybe you hurt in a bus accident while on a church-sponsored trip. As far as you’re concerned, you’re within your rights to seek damages. You may be shocked when the prospective defendant blocks your case. They claim protection against lawsuits because of charitable immunity.
More than likely, you’re not just puzzled. You’re also quite annoyed. And, undoubtedly, you’d like some insight into the concept of charitable immunity. A review of NJSA 2A:53A-7 provides the basis of law. In order to qualify for immunity from liability for negligence, the first constraint focuses on the purpose of the organization. It must be set up exclusively for religious, charitable, or educational objectives.
In the meantime, the statute doesn’t limit immunity to just the establishment itself. Anyone associated with the organization, such as employees or even volunteers, may be found immune from liability. Some examples of the types of organizations that fall under this umbrella are:
• Nonprofit corporations
• Societies, or
Again, a defendant who claims charitable immunity must first meet the preceding conditions. However, there is another concern. Any of these types of organizations also need to show you as a beneficiary of their works.
You should know that this just touches on some of the aspects of charitable immunity. And, the courts don’t always agree with a prospective defendants’ claims that they can’t be sued.
Drug Rehab Wasn’t Entitled to Charitable Immunity
In July of this year, the New Jersey Appellate Division decided a case where a drug rehab claimed charitable immunity as a defense. At the time the individual sustained personal injuries, he lived in Newark’s Integrity House. The residential facility provides drug-treatment for those suffering from addiction problems.
According to the case history, the plaintiff slipped and fell on stairs within the interior of the facility. He blamed the fall on Integrity House’s failure to properly maintain the premises.
When attorneys for Integrity House answered the complaint, they included charitable immunity as an affirmative defense. They then asked the court to rule on a motion for summary judgment. In short, the goal was to dismiss the case because Integrity House considered itself as meeting the criteria for charitable immunity. Since the plaintiff benefited from the rehab program, it seemed reasonable that Integrity House could not be held liable for damages associated with the injuries.
The case included expert witness testimony analyzing the corporation’s tax returns. Funding sources represented a major issue. Ultimately, the trial court determined that Integrity House met the three prongs that meant they were exempt from liability based on charitable immunity. More specifically, the court found that the defendant:
“(1) was formed for nonprofit purposes;
(2) is organized exclusively for religious, charitable or educational purposes; and
(3) was promoting such objectives and purposes at the time of the injury to the plaintiff who was then a beneficiary of the charitable works.”
On appeal, the plaintiff’s attorney disagreed that Integrity was organized exclusively for religious, charitable, or educational purposes. One issue related to disputes concerning the amount of revenue Integrity House received from private charitable contributions.
After analysis of the financial records, the New Jersey Appellate Division determined that the “percentage of private contributions received by Integrity House seems too nominal to advance the underlying purpose of the doctrine to protect and encourage private charitable contributions.”
The bottom line was that the plaintiff could pursue a case, which would then be considered as far as liability and damages.
At the Law Offices of Beninato & Matrafajlo, we evaluate every aspect of personal injury claims. Even if the defendant attempts to claim charitable immunity, our office conducts investigations to determine whether they are appropriate. Our goal is to achieve the best possible result on your behalf. Give us a call to see how we can assist you.