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Nelson v. Westfield Y.M.C.A.

A-3463-01T1 (N.J. Super. App. Div. 2003) (Unpublished)

CHARITABLE IMMUNITY—Charitable immunity does not turn on whether a claimant personally received a benefit, but whether the institution claiming the immunity was engaged in the works it was organized to advance.

A member of a Rotary Club attended a weekly luncheon at a YMCA. While attending one of those luncheons, she was injured as a result of a trip and fall. She sued the YMCA and several of its officers and members. The Rotary Club paid the YMCA a small weekly fee for use of the room. Under New Jersey law, charitable immunity is afforded to nonprofit corporations organized exclusively for religious, charitable or educational purposes when the beneficiary, “to whatever degree, of the works of such nonprofit corporation,” is injured, but not where the injured person “is one unconcerned in and unrelated to and outside of the benefactions of such corporation… .” Courts have broadly construed the term “beneficiary, to whatever degree.” Here, the court said that “[B]eneficiary status does ‘not depend upon a showing that the claimant personally received a benefit from the works of the charity.’ Instead, the test is ‘whether the institution pleading the immunity ... was engaged in the performance of the charitable objectives it was organized to advance.’” A case had also held “that the young son of a member of a men’s group which rented a basketball court from a non-profit community facility was a beneficiary of the community facility’s charitable works: ... even if only as a companion of his father and a spectator at his father’s basketball game.” In that case, it did not matter that neither the son nor his father were members of the nonprofit group or that the men’s group, “which was not itself a charitable organization, paid a fee for rental of the basketball court.” In this case, the Rotary Club rented premises from the charitable organization to conduct its activities. Further, the rental to another charitable organization was an acknowledged part of the YMCA’s charitable works, and the injured Rotary Club member was a beneficiary of those works.” The injured woman contended that she attended Rotary Club luncheons only at the direction of her employer. “However, beneficiary status under the Charitable Immunity Act does not turn on the personal motivations of the injured person.” The injured woman was a member of the Rotary Club. She was not akin to a paid salesman sent by his or her employer to address the club. Therefore, in this case, she was a recipient of the YMCA’s benefactions, “regardless of whether her motive for attending Rotary luncheons was service to the community, enjoyment of the comradery of her fellow Rotarians or career advancement.”

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