Who should be considered a beneficiary under the New Jersey Charitable Immunity Act?

In Larissa Sapia and Joseph Sapia v. Hunterdon County YMCA, L-10265-09 (N.J. Super. App. Div. August 10, 2012), Larissa Sapia (“Plaintiff”) went to the YMCA (“Defendant”) to examine its facilities with her parents. Plaintiff went with her parents only to act as a translator for them because they did not speak English.  While touring the facilities, Plaintiff slipped on a puddle of water located in front of a water fountain. The fountain was between the men’s and women’s locker room entrances. 

Plaintiff sought damages against Defendant that were caused by the unsafe condition of Defendant’s premises. Defendant claimed its potential personal injury liability was limited by the New Jersey Charitable Immunity Act (“Act”) and moved for summary judgment. The court granted Defendant’s motion. Plaintiff filed a motion for reconsideration with the Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division (“Court”). Plaintiff acknowledged Defendant’s status as a nonprofit tax exempt entity that was organized for charitable purposes. Therefore, the issue considered on appeal was confined to whether Plaintiff was a beneficiary of the charitable works. If it were, it could potentially receive immunity under the Act.

The Court explained that the Act shields charitable entities from liability for negligence in certain circumstances. The Court noted that the grant of immunity under the Act is not mandatory; it is not conditional. However, the Court also noted that the Act is liberally construed so as to afford immunity to nonprofit corporations organized for charitable, educational, or hospital purposes. 

In order for an entity to qualify for charitable immunity it must be:

1) formed for non-profit purposes;

2) organized exclusively for religious, charitable, or educational purposes; and

3) promoted for objective and purposes at the time of the injury to the plaintiff who was then a beneficiary of the charitable works.

The Court elaborated upon who is considered a beneficiary of the charitable works under the Act. The Court explained that beneficiary status does not depend upon a showing that plaintiff personally receives a benefit from the works of the charity. Rather, the issue was whether the entity claiming immunity was engaged in the performance of the charitable objectives that was the purpose of its

The Court considered the following factors:

  • Plaintiff was educated regarding the nature of available services that Defendant offered
    and on Defendant’s proposed goals.
  • Plaintiff’s presence was incidental to the accomplishment of her own objectives, which were
    related to the charity’s beneficence; ensuring her parents could receive the benefits of the facility tour.
  • Defendant was advancing its charitable goals at the time Plaintiff was injured because it
    occurred while walking a guided tour of the facility where Defendant conducted its activities and functions.

Based upon these factors, the Court held that Plaintiff benefited from the charity’s works. Therefore, she was a beneficiary of Defendant. Thus, the Court affirmed Defendant’s motion to dismiss.

A lesson to be noted is that nonprofits may be immune from personal injury claims even if the person
injured is on the premises for purposes that do not directly benefit them.

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