When my husband I decided to start a business, we didn't think about the legal aspects of doing so. We didn't realize that purchasing business insurance, getting building permits and making investments all required some type of legal advice. But after speaking to a close friend, who also happens to own a small business, we contacted a business attorney. Now, we have the legal smarts to make the best decisions for our business, as well as the legal representation in case something happens to our company. I hope that you find my blog helpful and informative for your own business. It's a great resource for finding the legal advice, resources and guidance you need to get your company up and running.
If you watch daytime television or see billboards and bus stop advertisements for personal injury attorneys, you're likely already aware that you can file a lawsuit against a company responsible for injuries you've suffered by slipping, falling, or otherwise being injured on their premises due to negligent or dangerous conditions. However, your ability to file a lawsuit to recover financial damages associated with your slip and fall injury could be curtailed if the entity responsible was a charity or nonprofit located in New Jersey. Read on to learn more about New Jersey's charitable immunity laws and how they could affect you if you find yourself injured due to a nonprofit's negligence.
What is charitable immunity?
Owners of businesses open to the public must ensure that their premises are always maintained in a safe condition, lest a patron or member of the public become injured due to negligence or recklessness. However, certain New Jersey entities aren't necessarily subject to this level of liability -- in fact, some organizations may be completely exempt from being sued by someone who is injured on the organization's premises, even if these injuries are severe or result in hefty medical costs.
Churches, charities, and other categories of nonprofit organizations may be shielded from personal injury liability through the principle of charitable immunity. Because these organizations are designed to serve the public while keeping no (or little) profit for themselves, state governments have often eliminated the need for these entities to carry additional liability insurance by granting them immunity from being sued by those they serve.
When may a business's activities be covered under charitable immunity?
Each state sets its own laws governing charitable immunity, and some state's laws are much broader than others. However, in New Jersey, anyone injured on the premises of a charitable, educational, or religious institution cannot sue to recover costs for these injuries if the victim was a beneficiary of the organization's services. For example, someone who slipped and fell on an icy sidewalk outside a church food bank while requesting food would be unable to sue the church for injuries sustained. However, charitable immunity could be waived for someone who slipped and fell on the same icy sidewalk while bringing a box of donations, as this person was providing a benefit to the food bank rather than receiving one.
Because the "charitable, educational, or religious" language of New Jersey's law closely mirrors that of the IRS 501(c)(3) rules, it's generally safe to say that a 501(c)(3) nonprofit operating in New Jersey is protected by charitable immunity so long as the injured person is somehow a beneficiary of the nonprofit's services.
What should you do if you think the defense of charitable immunity will be raised in your case?
If you suspect that an entity you're planning to sue for personal injury will try to have your case dismissed on charitable immunity grounds, you'll need to prevail on one or more arguments to allow your case to proceed.
First, you may be able to argue that you were not a beneficiary of the defendant organization -- that you were simply accompanying a friend or loved one and took no advantage of the organization's services. You could also argue that the organization isn't covered by charitable immunity as they don't fit beneath the religious, educational, or charitable umbrella. If an organization's charitable activities are more of an afterthought than a primary focus or mission, this organization may not clearly fit the requirements to remain a nonprofit and may be treated no differently than a for-profit business when it comes to personal injury liability.
Finally, in certain cases where gross negligence or malice is apparent, you could argue that charitable immunity should be waived due to the reckless actions of the organization's management. If these owners or managers acted (or failed to act) in a way that nearly guaranteed someone would be injured, they may have opened the organization to a lawsuit. For more information, contact a firm or attorney, like Putnam Lieb.