Certain organizations, such as non-profit hospitals, often enjoy a legal protection known as charitable immunity. Under this doctrine, a qualifying charitable organization is usually immune from legal liability that ordinarily stems from tort law. In some instances, however, this protection only extends to services that the charitable organization holds itself out to provide, and, as a result, the extent of charitable immunity is not always clear. Soon, the New Jersey Supreme Court will hear a case that will help decide whether to apply charitable immunity in the context of slip-and-fall lawsuits against non-profit charitable organizations.
The New Jersey Supreme Court has recently agreed to hear the case of Terry Kuchera, a personal injury plaintiff. Kuchera claims that she was at the Jersey Shore University Medical Center (JSUMC) to receive a free eye exam when she slipped on an “oily substance.” Kuchera filed a personal injury lawsuit against JSUMC, but her claims were thrown out by the trial court on the basis that the JSUMC had status as a charitable non-profit hospital and, therefore, could not be held liable due to the doctrine of charitable immunity.
On appeal, Kuchera argued that JSUMC should not be entitled to a charitable immunity defense since it provides both charitable and non-charitable services. The Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division, however, rejected Kuchera’s argument and agreed with the trial court’s determination. The court further explained that the hospital’s purpose is to provide community outreach and charitable care to the public, and that it should not be subject to liability during the course of providing free healthcare.
Kuchera has now appealed her case a second time to the New Jersey Supreme Court. Although the New Jersey Supreme Court has no obligation to hear the case, it has decided that it will take up the matter in an upcoming session. It is hoped that the court will provide clarification regarding the applicability of charitable immunity within the context of slip-and-fall personal injury lawsuits.