Education Doesn’t End with High School At Group Home for Charitable Immunity Act in NJ

“A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” Yet, when it comes to application of the Charitable Immunity Act every effort is made to re-label and rename the essential nature of an eligible organization to avoid the immunity offered. In a tragic case involving the death of a developmentally disabled young resident of a community group home, his estate tried to portray the home as other than an educational organization.

The decedent had been a resident from age eight to twenty-one. He had attended elementary and secondary education with the program. Even after attaining the age of eighteen, he was still subject to an Individual Habilitation Plan that addressed his continuing life skills development. This Plan included a goal with respect to small convenience store purchases. It was during an outing to a convenience store that the decedent choked on a bagel, which ultimately resulted in his death.

Despite arguments that the educational scope of the organization should be limited in time to when the decedent attended school, the Court found as a matter of law that his continued participation in life skills training fell within the home’s educational mission.

However, since the organization’s by-laws listed its organizational purpose as exclusively “charitable,” the Court also looked at the home’s entitlement to immunity under this more generic qualifier. While an exclusively “educational” organization need not prove its “charitable” status through funding information, this is not so for a more broadly defined charitable organization. Although the organization raised less than 2% of its revenue from charitable donations (about $1.1 million), the court disagreed that a pre-set revenue percentage factor would be determinative of the charitable status of the organization.

The Court concluded that the combination of educational and charitable elements for the group home clearly placed it within the ambit of the Act.

See Komninos v. Bancroft Neurohealth, Inc., http://www.judiciary.state.nj.us/opinions/a4041-09.pdf

If you would like more information, please contact Denise Ricci at dricci@wcmlaw.com