Supreme Court Holds Hospital Facility Only Entitled to Limited Charitable Immunity, But Not Absolute Immunity for Fall Down Injury on Premises – Kuchera v. Jersey Shore Family Health Center, 221 N.J. 239 (March 31, 2015)

By Michael Zerres

This is a premises liability case wherein Plaintiff slipped and fell on a wet spot on a floor in an outpatient health care facility, Jersey Shore Family Health Center (Family Health Center), which was owned and operated by a nonprofit hospital. Summary judgment was granted in favor of the hospital pursuant to N.J.S.A. 2A:53A-7, which grants immunity from negligence actions to nonprofit entities organized exclusively for charitable, educational, or religious purposes. The Appellate Division affirmed, holding that “the parent-hospital’s provision of charity care and medical education rendered the hospital a hybrid nonprofit institution organized exclusively for charitable and educational purposes . . .” and was, therefore, immune from liability pursuant to N.J.S.A. 2A:53A-7 to -11.

The matter was heard on Certification to the Supreme Court, which found that the defendant Jersey Shore Family Health Center is a nonprofit health care corporation organized exclusively for hospital purposes and therefore was not entitled to absolute immunity under N.J.S.A. 2A:53A-7, but rather, to the limitation of damages afforded to nonprofit institutions organized exclusively for hospital purposes under N.J.S.A. 2A:53A-8.

Meridian Health identifies its core hospital mission as addressing the public health needs of the community in which its constituents are located, which is accomplished by engaging in educational and research programs, and coordinating, sponsoring, promoting and advancing activities to improve the physical health and welfare of persons living in and around the geographic area it serves. ( The Family Health Center is a nonprofit, charitable ambulatory care facility, which provides numerous specialized free clinics, such as the eye screening at which plaintiff was injured. The modern hospital in New Jersey offers inpatient and outpatient services, may include a teaching component, and will provide medical care to those who can pay for it and those who cannot.

Applying these principles, the Court found that “Meridian Health defendants, and specifically the Medical Center and its Family Health Center, are governed by the more specific expression of legislative intent regarding hospitals articulated in N.J.S.A. 2A:53A-8 . . .” and should therefore be subjected to limited liability with any damage award capped at $250,000. Immunity, therefore, was not absolute.

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