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Sardo v. Academy of St. Benedict

A-5006-00T1 (N.J. Super. App. Div. 2002) (Unpublished)

CHARITABLE IMMUNITY— A church’s school is part of a its mission; consequently a church enjoys charitable immunity from a claim by a parishioner who is injured on the sidewalk of the church’s adjacent school while leaving church services.

A member of the congregation attended a religious service at the church. After the service, she left and fell on the sidewalk abutting the church’s property. At first, she claimed that she fell in front of the church building and not in front of its adjacent school. Later, she seemed to claim that she fell in front of the school. Under the Charitable Immunity Act, a church, as a charitable organization, is not liable for damages to individuals who are harmed by its negligence or of someone acting for it, if the injured individual is a beneficiary of the church’s acts. According to case law, a person is a beneficiary of a “church’s religious mission not only during the period when church services are actually being conducted, but also while the member is entering or leaving the church to obtain the benefit of those services.” Here, it was undisputed that the church owned and operated the school and that the school had no independent corporate or other existence except as an arm of the church. As such, it performed a role in the church’s religious mission. It operated on the same non-profit, charitable basis as the church. Thus, according to the Court, it didn’t matter whether the woman fell in front of the church or directly in front of the adjacent school building. She was a beneficiary of the church’s religious mission and fell on church property. Thus, the church was entitled to the benefit of the Charitable Immunity Act.

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