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Ken Margolin
Ken Margolin
Contributor •

Charitable Immunity is Unjust

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Protecting charitable organizations from liability for the negligence of the organization or its employees, may sound noble, but is in fact, unfair. The immunity doesn’t really accomplish its goals, and insures that employees of an organization involved in a personal injury lawsuit, will be sued instead of the organization. Here’s the way it works in Massachusetts. By statute, M.G.L. c. 231, §85K, the liability of non-profit, tax-exempt corporations, for personal injury caused by their negligence, is limited to $20,000. The doctrine never made much sense, since even organizations providing noble services, should be responsible for their actions when they harm others. Now that many “charitable” organizations are economic behemoths, such as major universities and hospitals, with CEOs earning seven figure incomes, the doctrine serves only to harm legitimate plaintiffs and to provide a windfall for the insurance industry. Virtually all viable non-profit organizations carry liability insurance. There is no logical reason why that insurance can’t cover the organization as well as its officials and employees, thus protecting the charitable corporation and victims of its corporate negligence.

The charitable immunity doctrine applies only to the organization, not its officials and employees, This guarantees that in a serious personal injury case, the employees will be sued, and the culpable institution will either not be sued or dropped from the case before trial. Juries don’t learn of the tort cap, and the risk is too large that they will render a sympathetic defendants’ verdict on behalf of the employees and nail the organization, never realizing that only $20,000 can be collected. The doctrine is at its most unjust when there is institutional negligence – for example, inadequate safety policies and procedures – but no readily identifiable, negligent employee. A risk is created that a jury hearing such a case, will let the employee off the hook, all the while wondering why the errant corporation was not made a defendant. Charitable corporations, no less than for-profit corporations, owe a duty of reasonable conduct to the public, and ought to procure sufficient insurance in case their negligence causes an innocent person serious harm. The Massachusetts legislature needs to buck the pressure from the insurance lobby, and abolish the antiquated and unfair doctrine of charitable immunity.