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Personal Injury Claim Barred by Charitable Immunity Defense

By on September 15, 2017 in Court Rulings with 1 Comment

Plaintiff Sabrina Losada filed suit against Princeton University and the Princeton Tigers Aquatic Club (“PTAC”) for injuries she suffered while attending her daughter’s swim meet. She claimed that she fell in a depression next to a walkway adjacent to the Princeton University building where the pool was located. In Losada v. Princeton University, 2017 N.J. Super. Unpub. LEXIS 2143 (App. Div. Aug. 24, 2017), the issue was whether Princeton University was immune from liability pursuant to the New Jersey Charitable Immunity Act.

The swim meet was held at Princeton’s DeNunzio pool and hosted by the PTAC, a youth swim team that is not affiliated with Princeton. Princeton is an educational institution and qualifies as a public charity under the Internal Revenue Code. Princeton’s charter states its purpose as “not for profit, including colleges and schools affiliated therewith, in various branches within or without [New Jersey].”

PTAC is a private swim team that also provides swimming lessons to children. Princeton rented its pool to PTAC for swim meets and practices.

The trial judge determined that summary judgment should be granted, dismissing as to Princeton, on the basis that the plaintiff was a beneficiary of Princeton’s educational goals within the meaning of the Charitable Immunity Act “CIA.” Under the CIA, immunity from a negligence claim is afforded to any “nonprofit corporation” which is “organized exclusively for religious, charitable or educational purposes” and where the injured person “is a beneficiary, to whatever degree, of the works of such nonprofit corporation.” The judge found that, at the time of the accident, Princeton was engaged in the performance of the charitable objective that it was organized to advance and, as a spectator at the swim meet, the plaintiff was a recipient of those good works.

On appeal, the plaintiff argued that Princeton’s stated purpose was the education of undergraduates and graduates, not the minor children that participated in PTAC’s activities. Further, plaintiff argued that youth sports offered by an outside organization was not within the educational objective that Princeton was organized to advance. Hence, plaintiff argued that Princeton should not be entitled to charitable immunity under the Act.

The Appellate Division disagreed with the plaintiff’s argument and found that Princeton was entitled to the immunity provided for it under the CIA. The Court pointed out that the law was to be “liberally construed” in favor of the protected entities.

“Education” has been construed broadly under the Act and is not limited to purely scholastic activities. In prior case law, the New Jersey courts ruled that “the purpose of teaching and promoting good citizenship and sportsmanship and assembling teams and groups for participation in sports qualifies it as a non-profit organization within the scope of the CIA.” Further, in a prior case involving Princeton University, the Court found that the “CIA may afford immunity to a non-profit entity’s rental to members of the general public for social and recreational activities.” The Court had found that the use of Princeton’s facilities by members of the general public served “important social and recreational needs of the community.”

Here, the Appellate Division found that the plaintiff was a beneficiary of Princeton’s educational purposes, as defined broadly by the CIA. Plaintiff, as a spectator at a youth sporting event held at Princeton, clearly qualified as a beneficiary. As a spectator and mother of a participant in an “educational endeavor,” taking place on Princeton’s premises, the Court held that plaintiff was a beneficiary because she benefited in some degree by attending the swim meet in which her child participated. It was irrelevant whether the PTAC was organized as a for profit or nonprofit entity. Thus, the Appellate Division upheld the summary judgment award in Princeton’s favor.

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About the Author

About the Author:

Ms. Ramos is an Executive Committee Member and Co-Chair of the Litigation Department at Capehart Scatchard, P.A. located in Mount Laurel, New Jersey. She is an experienced litigator with over 25 years experience handling diverse matters. Practice areas include tort defense, business litigation, estate litigation, tort claims and civil rights defense, construction litigation, insurance coverage, employment litigation, shareholder disputes, and general litigation.

For the years 2020 and 2021, Ms. Ramos was selected for inclusion in The Best Lawyers in America© in the practice area of Litigation - Insurance. The attorneys on this list are selected based upon the consensus opinion of leading lawyers about the professional abilities of their colleagues within the same geographical area and legal practice area. A complete description of The Best Lawyers in America© methodology can be viewed via their website at: https://www.bestlawyers.com/methodology.

In 2021, Capehart Scatchard and Ms. Ramos received the “Best Law Firm” ranking in the area of Litigation – Insurance (Metro, Tier 3) published by U.S. News & World Report and Best Lawyers®. Law firms included on the list are recognized for professional excellence with consistently impressive ratings from clients and peers. To be eligible for a ranking, a firm must have at least one attorney who has been included in the current edition of Best Lawyers in America, which recognizes the top five percent of practicing lawyers in the United States. Betsy Ramos (Litigation – Insurance) was recognized for this prestigious award in the 2021 edition. For a description of the “Best Law Firm” selection methodology please visit: https://bestlawfirms.usnews.com/methodology.aspx.

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There is 1 Brilliant Comment

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  1. Very good post. I’m experiencing some of these isues as well..

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