Massachusetts charitable organizations are given special protections under the law. It is widely known that these entities reap tax and other financial benefits. A lesser-known special treatment given to charitable organizations in Massachusetts is the liability cap they are afforded under Massachusetts General Laws, Chapter 231 Section 85K. The statute provides a limitation on the tort liability (liability for negligence causing personal injury) of charitable organizations at $20,000 with a special exception for medical malpractice torts having a slightly higher cap of $100,000. While Massachusetts is not alone in providing charitable immunity to non-profit organizations, many states have higher caps on liability and less stringent bars to recovery.
Charitable immunity was first introduced as a concept by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court in 1876 when the court completely immunized a hospital from liability reasoning that the limited funds available to the hospital needed to be preserved for the hospital’s use in caring for the public. The legislature revised this law in 1971, loosening the protection afforded to charitable organizations, but limiting their liability.
At least annual, newsworthy cases shed light on the problems posed by the Massachusetts charitable immunity cap, and show the injustice suffered by victims of negligence by charitable organizations. As reported earlier this month, victims of sexual abuse bringing claims against the Boy Scouts of America have faced inequity when confronted with the cap. Their claims, arguably worth well in excess of the $20,000 cap, are diminished. The limited recovery is not only insulting to the victims, but also inhibits the ability of victims to compel change on the part of organizations allowing wrongdoings to occur. Fortunately, under the law, individuals cannot be considered charitable organizations. In some instances, victims of negligence occurring in the course of a charitable organization’s work are able to bring a claim directly against the individual causing their harm. While this alternate avenue does lead to recovery for some claimants, recovering against individuals presents challenges and carries an increased risk of lack of funds as individuals are less likely to hold assets and insurance than corporations, even non-profit corporations.
The Supreme Judicial Court’s 1876 reasoning for protecting hospitals may have been appropriate for the time, but in the 21st centuries, hospitals have grown into major corporations with significant assets and plenty of insurance coverage – in most instances, it is a legal fiction that stripping away charitable immunity would preclude a non-profit corporation from continuing on with its work.
SUGARMAN’s experienced team of personal injury attorneys in Boston has extensive experience litigating medical malpractices cases involving charitable immunity. If you or someone you know was injured as a result of negligence by a hospital or another non-profit organization, fill out a Contact Form, call us at 617-542-1000 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.