June 26, 2008
Tort Suit by Mother of Church Member Blocked by Charitable Immunity Law
The Newark Star-Ledger reports that a New Jersey state appeals court has ruled that Joan Patterson could not sue a church because her son was a member. Ms. Patterson slipped on ice outside of the Liberty Corner Presbyterian Church and fractured her wrist in February 2005. Although Ms. Patterson did not attend the church and was Roman Catholic, not Presbyterian, the court held that New Jersey's Charitable Immunity Act barred her negligence suit because her 17-year old son was a member of the church. Ms. Patterson was picking him up from a youth event when the accident occurred. According to court's opinion, while the Act only bars suits by persons who are beneficiaries of the sued nonprofit's works, it found that Ms. Patterson benefited from her son's attendance at the church although she may have preferred to have him attend a Roman Catholic Church instead. While not stated explicitly, the court's decision may have turned in part on the fact that she apparently had, albeit perhaps somewhat grudgingly, given her permission for her son to attend the church.
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