N.J.S.A. 2A-53A 7 confers immunity from tort liability upon nonprofit institutions "organized exclusively for religious, charitable, education or hospital purposes". (Emphasis supplied). This case presents the question whether a nonprofit corporation organized as a blood bank for the purpose of collecting, processing, storing and distributing blood is entitled to such immunity.
Defendant clearly was not organized for religious, educational or hospital purposes. At issue here is whether it was organized exclusively for charitable purposes.
Plaintiff participated in a voluntary blood drive sponsored by a local rescue squad. Defendant North Jersey Blood Center, through its doctors and nurses, was retained to extract blood from donors in the usual fashion by puncturing a vein in their arm with a needle. Plaintiff alleged that as a result of the negligent manner in which the procedure was performed upon her, she sustained damage to the median nerve in her arm.
Defendant collects blood from voluntary donors and distributes it either (1) to such donors and their immediate family in unlimited amounts without charge during the 12 months following the blood donation, or (2) by sale to nondonors at a fee which is equal to defendant's costs.
A jury found in favor of plaintiff. Defendant brought this motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict on the ground
that it is immune from tort liability pursuant to N.J.S.A. 2A:53A-7.
We have seen the doctrine of charitable immunity undergo several changes in New Jersey in the past few decades. At common law a charitable institution was immune from tort liability. The reason most commonly expressed was that funds devoted to charitable objects should not be diverted to pay tort claims. 4 Scott, Trusts (3 ed. 1967), 3177. But Collopy v. Newark Eye and Ear Infirmary , 27 N.J. 29 (1958) repudiated the common law doctrine as "unsound in the light of modern conditions" (at 46) because not only does it run counter to "widespread principles which fairly impose liability on those who wrongfully and negligently injure others" (at 47) but, equally important, liability insurance is now available to protect the charitable funds from such diversion. However, the Legislature immediately repudiated Collopy and enacted N.J.S.A. 2A:53A-7 et seq. , see the Temporary Act (L. 1958, c. 131) and the Permanent Act (L. 1959, c. 90) which restored charitable immunity to its judicial parameters prior to Collopy. Anasiewicz v. Sacred Heart Church , 74 N.J. Super. 532 (App.Div.1962), certif. den. 38 N.J. 305 (1962).
Although the statute is to be "liberally construed so as to afford immunity . . . in furtherance of the public policy for the protection" of charitable organizations, N.J.S.A. 2A:53A-10, it was pointed out in Lawlor v. Cloverleaf Memorial Park, Inc. , 56 N.J. 326 (1970), that
Generally, when an injured party has a common law right to sue a wrongdoer, statutory immunity in derogation of this right must be strictly construed. Potter v. Finch & Sons , 76 N.J. 499, 502 (1978). However, this statute is not in derogation
of the common law but was to restore it. So there is no rule of statutory construction to assist us, and what we must do is determine what the Legislature intended by the phrase "organized exclusively for ...