What is charitable immunity in Virginia and how could it affect my personal injury claim? | Shapiro, Washburn & Sharp

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.

Charitable immunity extends from the common law principle that organizations and individuals should not be punished for attempting to do good. This is same reason that Virginia and every other state has a Good Samaritan law that holds people immune from lawsuits after they provide emergency first aid.

The immunity extends to licensed charities, religious organizations and churches, and all the staff and volunteers for those organizations. The immunity from insurance claims and civil lawsuits goes away when evidence shows that harm resulted from “gross negligence, recklessness or willful misconduct.”

As an example of how charitable immunity applies, a churchgoer can almost never sue a pastor or church board after tripping in the aisle. On the other hand, patrons who contracted food poisoning would likely be able to file claims against a food pantry whose managers refused to dispose of expired or recalled canned goods.