EMAIL TO A FRIEND COMMENT

 

Multipurpose Hospital Had Limited, Not Absolute Charitable Immunity


A woman attended a free eye screening provided by the New Jersey Commission for the Blind and Visually Impaired. The screening was conducted at an outpatient health care facility. The outpatient health care facility was a nonprofit charitable clinic in a hospital system. The outpatient health care facility provided medical care for those where are uninsured, underinsured, without a primary care physician, or who lack access to regular medical care. The hospital system was organized to operate hospitals, to promote educational and research activities, to render health care and related services, and to carry out other activities related to these purposes.

 

After the woman arrived at the outpatient health care facility, she went to an office to register for the screening. As she left the office to return to the waiting room, the woman fell on the tile floor. She reported that she slipped on an oily substance and asserted that one of the nurses pointed to the nearby paper towels and said, “Oh, I was going to clean it up in a minute.” As a result of the fall, the woman alleged that she injured her left hip and knee, shoulder, wrist and neck, and suffered a torn ligament in her ankle and herniated and bulging discs in her lower back.

 

The woman sued the outpatient health care facility and the hospital system. The complaint alleged she was injured when she slipped on the floor at the outpatient health care facility.

 

The Ocean County Superior Court, Law Division, granted summary judgment in favor of the health care facility. The trial court noted that the central issue was whether the entity itself, not the building that it owned, was organized exclusively for hospital purposes or for religious, educational, and/or hospital purposes. The trial court found that the hospital system had a hybrid purpose that included educational and charitable services as well as the operation of a hospital. The trial court held that the outpatient health care facility and hospital system were entitled to absolute charitable immunity pursuant to N.J.S.A. 2A:53A–7, which grants immunity from negligence actions to nonprofit entities organized exclusively for charitable, educational, or religious purposes.

 

The Appellate Division of Superior Court affirmed. The appellate court held that the hospital system's provision of charity care and medical education rendered it and the outpatient health care facility a hybrid nonprofit institution organized for charitable and educational purposes. It concluded that the hospital system and outpatient health care facility were accordingly immune from liability for negligence pursuant to section 7 of the Charitable Immunity Act, rather than subject to a cap on damages for negligence pursuant to section 8 of that statute.

 

The Supreme Court of New Jersey reversed and remanded. The court held that the outpatient health care facility and hospital system were nonprofit institutions organized exclusively for hospital purposes rather than for religious, charitable, or educational purposes and thus were subject to limited liability rather than absolute immunity under the Charitable Immunity Act.

 

The outpatient health care facility and hospital system were nonprofit institutions organized exclusively for hospital purposes rather than for religious, charitable, or educational purposes and thus were subject to limited liability rather than absolute immunity under the Charitable Immunity Act. The court held that a hospital is subject to limited liability under section 8 if it (1) is formed as a nonprofit corporation, society, or association; (2) is organized exclusively for hospital purposes, (3) was promoting those objectives and purposes at the time the plaintiff was injured, and (4) the plaintiff was a beneficiary of the activities of the hospital. The court held that the free eye screening conducted at the outpatient health care facility was promoting a hospital purpose. The court reasoned that modern hospital purposes include educational and charitable components, but that does not turn modern hospitals into educational or charitable institutions for the purposes of the Charitable Immunity Act. The court held that the outpatient health care facility and hospital system were not entitled to absolute charitable immunity pursuant to N.J.S.A. 2A:53A–7. Instead, they were entitled to the limited liability afforded to nonprofit entities organized exclusively for hospital purposes pursuant to N.J.S.A. 2A:53A–8. The court noted that in premises liability actions, such as this one, any concerns that this ruling may sap nonprofit hospital resources is ameliorated by the opportunity of the organization to obtain indemnification from those entities with which the hospital contracts to maintain its facilities.

 

The Supreme Court of New Jersey reversed the appellate court’s judgment that affirmed the trial court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of the outpatient health care facility.

 

See: Kuchera v. Jersey Shore Family Health Center, 2015 WL 1421421 (N.J., March 31, 2015) (not designated for publication). 

 

 

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