• Key point. Some states protect charities from being sued by the beneficiaries of their services who are injured or damaged as a result of those services. The fact that a charity in such a state carries liability insurance will not necessarily affect its immunity from liability.
A New Jersey court dismissed a lawsuit brought against a church by a person injured on church premises on the basis of a state charitable immunity law that immunizes charities from liability for injuries sustained by "beneficiaries". A Greek Orthodox congregation conducted an annual festival designed to introduce the community to the Greek Orthodox faith and the Hellenic culture. A resident of the community, who was not a member of the church, attended the festival and was seriously injured when he slipped on a sidewalk as he was leaving. He sued the church, claiming that the church's negligence in maintaining and supervising its property caused his injuries. The church asked the court to dismiss the case on the basis of a New Jersey "charitable immunity" law specifying that "[n]o nonprofit corporation … organized exclusively for religious, charitable, educational or hospital purposes shall … be liable to respond in damages to any person who shall suffer damages from the negligence of any agent or servant of such corporation … where such person is a beneficiary, to whatever degree, of the works of such nonprofit corporation …." The trial court dismissed the case on the ground that the patron was a "beneficiary" of the church and accordingly the church could not be liable for his injuries. The patron appealed, claiming that the festival was a commercial, fund-raising event that was not entitled to the protection of the charitable immunity law. An appeals court disagreed. In language that will be useful to other churches seeking to demonstrate the religious purpose of related activities, the court quoted from a 1939 decision: