NEWARK, N.J. A woman injured in a fall at a church where her teenage son was a member cannot sue because she is still considered a beneficiary of its mission and as a result the church is covered by a state law protecting nonprofit organizations, an appellate panel ruled.
The 2-0 decision reversed a trial judge's ruling and ordered that Joan Patterson's lawsuit against a Somerset County church be dismissed.
The appellate court said the Liberty Corner Presbyterian Church is protected from such a negligence case by the state's Charitable Immunity Act even though the mother was not a church member.
"In choosing to permit him to attend Liberty Corner, she benefited from the religious, spiritual, moral and ethical education that her son was receiving," the panel said. "Therefore, for the purposes of the act, Mrs. Patterson is a beneficiary under the language of the statute, thus making Liberty Corner immune from liability for her injuries."
Patterson lawyer Vivian Demas said no decision had been made on whether to appeal the ruling, which she said appears to push the charitable immunity law "to the very limits."
Patterson suffered several broken wrist bones when she fell on ice in 2005 while picking up her 17-year-old son from a youth meeting. She sued, claiming the church had failed to maintain the driveway.