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Sommers v. Union Beach First Aid Squad

Decided: March 2, 1976.

DORIS SOMMERS AND FRED SOMMERS, HER HUSBAND, PLAINTIFFS-APPELLANTS,
v.
UNION BEACH FIRST AID SQUAD, DEFENDANT-RESPONDENT



Allcorn, Kole and King. The opinion of the Court was delivered by King, J.s.c., Temporarily Assigned.

King

Plaintiffs Sommers appeal from the order of the trial judge granting summary judgment in favor of defendant Union Beach First Aid Squad (Squad). Squad is a charitable corporation organized, according to its charter, "to render First Aid services of every kind and description, particularly in and for the Borough and the Citizens of Union Beach * * * and to offer such services without compensation. Also for the further purpose of promoting better health and the cause of humanitarianism, to give aid to those in distress who are without funds for such aid."

At about 11:30 A.M. on February 27, 1972 plaintiff Doris Sommers was crossing the driveway of a building owned and operated by Squad. She was on her way to the building owned by defendant to make a contribution as an expression of appreciation to Squad for its recently rendered service to her mother. Apparently Squad had recently furnished hospital transportation to the mother.

February 27 was a cold day and a Squad member had washed his car in the driveway. Through a combination of the water and the cold climate ice formed upon the driveway where plaintiff slipped, fell and was injured. This driveway was commonly used by the Squad's membership and the public for ingress and egress to the Squad headquarters. Plaintiff is a resident of the municipality of Union Beach and lives about 600 feet from the Squad property.

The trial judge held as a matter of law on the basis of these undisputed facts that plaintiff was within the charitable

beneficence of Squad and was barred from recovery by N.J.S.A. 2A:53A-7 et seq. Plaintiff appeals asserting she is not within the ambit of the statutory immunity under the circumstances of the accident described.

The pertinent statutory provisions are as follows:

No nonprofit corporation, society or association organized exclusively for religious, charitable, educational or hospital purposes shall, except as is hereinafter set forth, be liable to respond in damages to any person who shall suffer damages from the negligence of any agent or servant of such corporation, society or association, where such person is a beneficiary, to whatever degree, of the works of such nonprofit corporation, society or association; provided, however, that such immunity from liability shall not extend to any person who shall suffer damages from the negligence of such corporation, society or association or of its agents or servants where such person is one unconcerned in and unrelated to and outside of the benefactions of such corporation, society or association; but nothing herein contained shall be deemed to exempt the said agent or servant individually from their liability for any such negligence. [ N.J.S.A. 2A:53A-7]

This act shall be deemed to be remedial and shall be liberally construed so as to afford immunity to the said corporations, societies and associations from liability as provided herein in furtherance of the public policy for the protection of nonprofit corporations, societies and associations organized for religious, charitable, educational or hospital purposes. [ N.J.S.A. 2A:53A-10]

No one disputes Squad's qualification to raise the defense. Squad is clearly a nonprofit corporation organized exclusively for charitable purposes within the meaning of the statute. The issue is whether plaintiff is exempt from the immunity as being beyond the beneficence of Squad. The language of the statute presented for critical interpretation is whether the plaintiff "is a beneficiary to whatever degree, of the works of such nonprofit corporation." Construction is complicated by the qualification that "immunity from liability shall not extend to any person who shall suffer damage * * * where such person is one unconcerned in and unrelated to and outside of the benefactions of such corporation." N.J.S.A. 2A:53A-10 expressly deems the act to be "remedial"

and states that it "shall be liberally construed so as to afford immunity to the said corporations * * * in furtherance of the public policy for the protection of nonprofit corporations * * * organized ...


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