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Charitable Immunity for University Upheld by NJ App Div in Student Death

December 29, 2009

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In Ozrech v. Fairleigh Dickinson University, Ozrech fell to his death from his fourth floor dormitory window. The fall was alcohol related, which was in violation of Fairleigh Dickinson’s (FDU) alcohol policy, and the FDU police failed to properly enforce the policy. Because of these facts, the lower court held that FDU was not engaged in the charitable objectives it was organized to advance, and Ozrech was not a beneficiary of such objectives, and as such FDU was not entitled to immunity under the charitable immunity act.
Following trial, FDU appealed, arguing it was entitled to immunity under the charitable immunity act and the Appellate Division agreed, holding that FDU’s failure to properly enforce their alcohol policies did not negate Ozrech’s status as a beneficiary of FDU’s educational works and as such immunity should apply.
The court noted that the statutory elements required to support a claim of immunity are (1) that the entity asserting immunity was formed for nonprofit purposes, (2) that it is organized exclusively for religious, charitable, or educational purposes, and (3) that it promoted such purposes at the time of the injury to the plaintiff, who was then a beneficiary, to whatever degree, of its charitable works. There was no dispute that FDU satisfied the first two elements. The question was whether Ozrech was a beneficiary at the time of the accident.
The Appellate Division reasoned that the act must be liberally construed, and that at the time of the accident, the person must be receiving the benefits of the charitable organization, at least to some degree. New Jersey Courts have previously held that the term “educational” in the context of the act does not mean solely scholastic activities. Merely being a student engaging in educational pursuits at a university makes someone a per se beneficiary under the act. Furthermore, Ozrech’s accident happened in university run housing, where he was provided with the educational opportunity to live with other students, share experiences and broaden his horizons. Ozrech was deemed to be receiving educational benefits and thus FDU was entitled to immunity under the charitable immunity act.
Thanks to Alison Weintraub for her contribution to this post.
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