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.