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Charitable Immunity Blocks Personal Injury Claim (NJ)

January 12, 2018

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<span style="font-weight: 300">While attending a country music star concert at Monmouth University, plaintiff <a href="">brought suit</a> after she allegedly fell on unsafe stairs at the university’s Multipurpose Activity Center. Monmouth University had rented out the activity center to another company for the purposes of holding this concert. Plaintiff alleged that she was a business invitee and that the university breached its duty of care. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the university, citing the Charitable Immunity Act.</span>
The Charitable Immunity Act protects nonprofit organizations that are organized exclusively for religious, charitable or educational purposes from damages to any person where such person is a beneficiary to the works of such nonprofit corporation.  An entity qualifies for charitable immunity when the following three requirements are met: (1) it was formed for nonprofit purposes; (2) it was organized exclusively for religious charitable or educational purposes; and (3) it was promoting such objectives and purposes at the time of the injury to plaintiff who was then a beneficiary of the charitable works.
Plaintiff conceded that the university satisfies the first two prongs of the charitable immunities standard. However, she argued that the country star concert was not an “educational” event. The courts rejected this argument, finding that the country music star’s concert was titled “Joy of Christmas” which was likely to include Christmas music. Whether classical, country or Christmas, music is an art and the court found that the concert was “a cultural and educational experience for patrons of this form of artistic production.”  The university would have been immune if it presented such a concert itself, and the court found that it was no less immune just because it rented out its facilities to the outside entities who presented the concert.
Notably, even an organization “organized exclusively” for “charitable” purposes may be immune when it rents its facilities to for-profit entities. The courts have historically found that non-profit organizations that rent its facilities to the general public for activities such as piano recitals, dance classes and concerts serves important social and recreational needs of the community. As such, the trial courts grant of summary judgment in favor of the university was affirmed by the appellate court.  Thanks to Steve Kim for his contribution to this post.  Please email <a href="">Brian Gibbons </a>with any questions.


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