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Charitable Immunities: Immunity from Civil Lawsuits

ambulance.jpg The concept of a charitable immunity – that charities cannot be sued for negligent conduct – originates from nineteenth century common law, based upon the idea that funds that were otherwise meant to go to charitable causes should not be diverted to pay for legal actions. In 1958, the New Jersey Supreme Court overruled this charitable immunity doctrine. However, shortly thereafter, the New Jersey legislature enacted The Charitable Immunity Act reinstating the charitable immunity to a certain extent.

The Charitable Immunity Act provides in part that nonprofit corporations, societies and associations organized exclusively for religious, charitable or education purposes or their representatives cannot be liable to anyone who suffers as a result of a charitable organization’s representatives’ negligence if they would otherwise benefit from the acts of the organization. Therefore, in order to qualify for the charitable immunity, and therefore avoid suit, the organization must have been promoting its exclusively religious, charitable, or educational purpose to the plaintiff who was a beneficiary of it’s religious, charitable or education efforts.

The idea is that the person who the charitable organization was trying to help cannot then sue the charitable organization for negligence in it’s efforts to aid that person. However, a Charitable Immunity does not insulate an organization from suit if the wrongful act was willful, intentional, reckless, or even grossly negligent.

Further, an entity such as a public school board is not protected by the charitable immunity because it is an “instrumentality of the State itself.” Indeed, the New Jersey Supreme Court has specifically held that public entities such as public schools are not protected by the Charitable Immunity Act because the “primary purposes of the Act-protecting private trust funds and contributions, encouraging altruistic activity and private philanthropy, and relieving the government of the obligation of providing beneficent services-are not advanced by affording immunity to a purely public entity.”

However, there are additional laws which provide immunity which may encompass public entities or representatives, such as the Good Samaritan Act which protects both regular civilians who try to aid an injured person and emergency rescue workers aiding a person in need.. This law protect those who render life support services in good faith from negligence lawsuits. However, while these laws protect individual emergency medical technicians, hospitals and hospital staff, they do not protect a Rescue Squad as an organization. Also, New Jersey’s Tort Claims Act provides that a public employee is not liable if he acts in good faith in the execution or enforcement of any law.

However, none of these laws protect acts by individuals who act outside of the scope of their charitable duties or cause harm intentionally or recklessly.

McLaughlin & Nardi, LLC’s attorneys are experienced in litigation involving public entities, and issues and defenses related to public entities and charitable immunities. To learn more about what we can do to help, please visit our website or contact one of our lawyers at (973) 890-0004.