• Charitable Immunity Act causes death of a case against cemetery.
  • March 1, 2018 | Author: Richard J. Halmo
  • Law Firm: Marshall Dennehey Warner Coleman & Goggin, P.C. - New York Office
  • Jack v. Calvary Cemetery & Chapel Mausoleum, 2017 N.J. Super. Unpub. LEXIS 3041 (App. Div. Dec. 11, 2017)

    The plaintiff filed suit against a cemetery, owned by the parish of Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception and operated by the Diocese of Camden, after the plaintiff’s wheelchair wedged in a crack in the sidewalk and caused him to fall out of his chair and fracture his wrist. It was undisputed that the Diocese and the Cathedral were established for “religious, ecclesiastical, charitable and educational purposes.” The plaintiffs contended, however, that the Charitable Immunity Act did not provide immunity for the defendants because the operation of the cemetery itself was not charitable or religious work and because the plaintiffs were not beneficiaries of any of the charitable or religious work of the defendants. The plaintiffs also contended in the alternative that, even if the Act applied, the cemetery’s actions constituted gross negligence, which would preclude immunity in this matter. The Appellate Division found that the Charitable Immunity Act applied in this case because, unlike in previous similar cases, the cemetery was owned by a religious and/or charitable institution, and the cemetery itself was not being used for commercial purposes. Here, rather, the funeral was conducted “[b]y a priest in accord with the tenets and protocol of the Catholic faith.” The court further found unpersuasive the fact that neither of the religious and charitable institutions expressly mentioned the operation of the cemetery in their certificate of incorporation of bylaws. Lastly, the court noted that the plaintiff was indeed a beneficiary of the charitable works as he attended the funeral conducted by a priest at the mausoleum and was injured while leaving the service. The Appellate Division’s decision once again illustrates the broad scope of application of the Charitable Immunity Act. It is clear that any party who chooses to engage with a charitable organization—even by attending a funeral in a cemetery owned by a religious entity—will have a difficult time surviving the Act’s procedural barriers. Thus, it is important for defendants in a premises liability case to investigate the degree to which the property in question may be affiliated with a religious or charitable entity.