The New Jersey Supreme Court has issued a ruling that may change the way free clinics are run in the state. According to their unanimous decision earlier this year, a nonprofit hospital can be held responsible for any injuries sustained on their property, even if the hospital is not open and the premises are being used to operate a free clinic during non-business hours.
The ruling states that the nonprofit hospital in question, Jersey Shore Family Medical Center, is covered under the limited liability protections granted to hospitals, with damages capped at $250,000; but it is not eligible for coverage under the Charitable Immunity Act, which offers full immunity from damages.
Although the hospital was hosting a charitable event at the time, the judges ruled that the event was not covered because of the nature of the organization’s business as a whole.
“Whether a nonprofit organization is entitled to charitable immunity or subject to the limitation on damages afforded to those institutions organized exclusively for hospital purposes turns on the purpose of the institution, not the use to which the facility is put on any given day,” Appellate Division Judge Mary Cuff said.
In a blog post at the beginning of this year, the New Jersey personal injury attorneys at HCK discussed the case of Kuchera v. Jersey Shore Family Medical Center. The defendant, Terry Kuchera, slipped and fell on a patch of oil at the medical center in March of 2009. She was attending a free eye screening at the facility hosted by the New Jersey Commission for the Blind and Visually Impaired. The event took place on a Saturday, and the center itself was closed.
At the original trial and on appeal, judges found that the center was excused from any responsibility for damages under the Charitable Immunity Act because the event was free and provided as a charitable service.
Kuchera and her attorneys had argued that because the eye clinic’s services fell under the category of hospital functions, the center should be liable for up to $250,000 damages. When we discussed this case originally, the case was in the appellate courts where the judges ruled that the center was not responsible for Kuchera’s injuries.
State Supreme Court Ruling
When the case reached the state Supreme Court, the judges held that the Charitable Immunity Act is not one-size-fits-all, especially in the case of nonprofit organizations. The Act treats nonprofits with specific charitable functions differently from nonprofits that provide hospital services. The former are excused from liability, according to the state Supreme Court’s ruling, while the latter can be liable for negligence at a capped amount.
Injury and Responsibility
A free, charitable service should not cost you a fortune in medical expenses if you are injured. At Helmer, Conley, and Kasselman, PA, we represent people who have suffered injuries as a result of negligence, no matter what the circumstances. To discuss your case and the options available to you, contact a New Jersey personal injury lawyer at our firm for a consultation today.