The state Supreme Court is hearing arguments regarding a hospital’s liability and coverage under New Jersey’s Charitable Immunity Act. Rulings from the appellate division and the Ocean County Superior Court have interpreted the Immunity Act as protecting hospitals completely from tort liability when they are hosting a charitable event. However, one woman is claiming that their interpretation is too broad and should not protect a Jersey Shore Medical Center facility from responsibility for the injuries she sustained while there.
In 2009, Terry Kuchera slipped and fell on an oily surface at the Jersey Shore Family Health Center in Neptune, N.J. while she was attending a free eye screening hosted by the New Jersey Commission for the Blind and Visually Impaired. The event was held on a Saturday when the center is usually closed and was staffed by volunteers.
Kuchera sued the center for damages to help cover medical costs for her injuries. At the initial trial, a Superior Court judge ruled the center was immune because it was providing a free service for charity in combination with the Commission for the Blind and Visually Impaired. The judge ruled that the hospital was covered by the protections afforded under the Charitable Immunity Act.
Charitable Immunity Act
New Jersey’s Charitable Immunity Act (N.J.S.A. 2A:53A-7) states that “no nonprofit corporation, society or association organized exclusively for…charitable purposes…shall…be liable to respond in damages to any person who shall suffer damage from the negligence of any agent…where such person is a beneficiary…of the works of such nonprofit.” Simply put, what this means is that a person receiving free services from a charitable organization cannot sue the organization if he or she is injured while attending their event.
However, the complication in Kuchera’s case comes from the fact that the Jersey Shore Facility Health Center is a hospital and the center was providing hospital services at the eye screening. As such, Kuchera and her personal injury lawyers argued in appeals court that the center should be held at least partially responsible and asked for damages up to $250,000.
The Charitable Immunity Act allows charitable organizations to protect their assets in the event of an accident or injury, but many personal injury lawyers in New Jersey, along with some of the state Supreme Court justices, believe that this law should not be extended to hospitals. Justice Barry Albin said that today, many (if not all) hospitals provide educational and charitable events in addition to their day-to-day hospital services.
Additionally, this hospital carries liability insurance, which Kuchera’s attorney argued would be unnecessary, if the Charitable Immunity Act covers any entity providing charitable and educational services as the appellate court ruled. If this interpretation of the Act stands, most hospitals would be able to qualify and would be granted total immunity.
At Helmer, Conley, and Kasselman, PA, a New Jersey law firm, our personal injury attorneys represent persons who have suffered an injury as a result of another person or entity’s negligence. To discuss your case, contact our office today.