What is Charitable Immunity? | Shapiro, Washburn & Sharp

Virginia Medical Malpractice Lawyer

Charitable immunity refers to a legal doctrine that historically shielded charitable organizations from certain liabilities, particularly in the context of medical malpractice claims. This doctrine provides protection to nonprofits, including hospitals and other healthcare facilities, from being sued for negligence or malpractice in the provision of medical services.

The concept of charitable immunity is rooted in the idea that organizations providing charitable services, often supported by donations and volunteers, should be protected from excessive liability and requiring a non-profit organization to expend its resources paying judgments, which would in turn decrease the charitable hospital’s ability to treat patients. This protection allows them to allocate a larger portion of their resources to further their charitable missions.

This type of immunity from insurance claims and lawsuits is not as strong as the sovereign immunity that protects government employees or the Feres Doctrine that prevents active duty members of the U.S. military from filing medical malpractice claims for errors at federal health care facilities, however, it can make pursuing a medical malpractice or other type of personal injury claim difficult.

Charitable Immunity Example

One example in which charitable immunity could be applied is if a church-run hospital injures a patient by nicking or severing their bowel or ureter. The hospital could probably raise charitable immunity as a defense and be protected from a medical malpractice injury claim. Although extremely helpful for most nonprofit organizations, this doctrine does not protect against an action claiming an infringement of constitutional rights or a breach of contract.

Charitable Immunity in Virginia

Critics argue that this doctrine can hinder accountability and compromise the quality of care provided by charitable organizations, as they might not be as vigilant in ensuring proper standards and practices. Many jurisdictions began to reconsider and modify the charitable immunity doctrine. Some states abolished it altogether, allowing individuals to sue charitable healthcare organizations for medical malpractice on equal grounds as they would non-charitable entities.

While some states have imposed limitations on recovery from charitable organizations by capping damages or allowing damages only to the extent of the available insurance, in Virginia, the charitable immunity defense is alive and well.

Section 44-146.23 of the Virginia Code grants immunity from personal injury and wrongful claims to an “individual, corporation, partnership, association, cooperative, limited liability company, trust, joint venture, fraternal organization, religious organization, charitable organization, or any other legal or commercial entity and any successor, officer, director, representative, or agent thereof, who” acts to respond to an emergency, provide aid and advice, or offer shelter.

In a 2005 Virginia Supreme Court case, the justices declared that the charitable immunity doctrine is “firmly embedded in state jurisprudence and has become part of its general public policy.”

Proving that negligence led directly to an injury or death is necessary for receiving a malpractice settlement or civil jury award. Under Virginia’s charitable immunity law, then, simply showing that a crash or a fall was the fault of an individual or organization covered by the law would not suffice to merit financial recovery.

However, the state statute also specifies that a grant of charitable immunity “shall not preclude liability for civil damages as a result of gross negligence, recklessness, or willful misconduct. The immunities of this subsection shall not extend to any manufacturer or to any retailer or distributor substantially involved in the manufacture or design of any product or good.”

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If you or a loved one has been injured in a medical malpractice lawsuit, contact Shapiro, Washburn & Sharp to schedule a free case evaluation with one of our dedicated Virginia medical malpractice lawyers to find out what legal recourse you may have.