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New Jersey Appellate Division Continues its Broad Interpretation of the Charitable Immunity Act (NJ)

November 1, 2019

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Earlier this year, the New Jersey Appellate Division, in <em>Green v. Monmouth University</em>, held that a public University was shielded from liability pursuant to the charitable immunity act even though the plaintiff in that case was injured at a for-profit Martina McBride concert hosted at the University.  The court held that the concert was in furtherance of the University’s educational mission and that plaintiff was a beneficiary of that mission at the time of her fall.

Since that decision, the Appellate Division has continued to broadly interpret the charitable immunity act to provide immunity to nonprofit charitable or educational institutions.  An example of this trend was recently provided by the Appellate Division in <a href="https://njcourts.gov/attorneys/assets/opinions/appellate/unpublished/a4550-17.pdf?c=pFB"><em>Gryger v. Perkins Center for the Arts</em></a>.  In that case, the plaintiff fell at a facility leased by the defendant Perkins, which is a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting arts and culture.  The plaintiff was not a paying member of the organization and had purchased a ticket to attend a pottery class hosted by the organization.

Under New Jersey law, in order to establish immunity, the defendant needed to show that it: (1) was formed for nonprofit purposes; (2) was 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 a beneficiary of the charitable works.  The court held that Perkins was a charitable institution inasmuch as it was not for profit and was dedicated to promoting arts and culture.  The court further held that the plaintiff was a beneficiary at the time of the accident since she planned on attending Perkins’ pottery classes.  The fact that the plaintiff paid a fee to attend the class and was not a member of Perkins was of no moment.

This case is a great illustration of how broadly New Jersey courts continue to interpret the charitable immunity act.  Virtually any non-profit entity may potentially be shielded from liability for any accident occurring while a charitable organization is promoting its educational, charitable or religious mission.  An exception, however, may be carved out if, for example, a charitable organization leases a facility to conduct a commercial enterprise.

Thank you to Mike Noblett for his contribution to this post.  Please email <a href="mailto:chayes@wcmlaw.com">Colleen E. Hayes</a> with any questions.

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