The Honorable Stephanie A. Mitterhoff, J.S.C., in a well written and thorough opinion, held that the YMCA is not a charitable organization for purposes of New Jersey’s Charitable Immunity Act (“CIA”). By so holding, the YMCA may be sued for personal injuries caused by its negligence.
Under the CIA, charitable organizations are immune from tort liability where: (1) the organization is formed for non-profit purposes; (2) the organization is organized exclusively for religious, charitable, or educational purposes; (3) the organization was promoting such purposes at the time of plaintiff’s injury; and (4) the plaintiff was a beneficiary of the organization’s charitable works.
There was no dispute that the YMCA was formed for non-profit purposes. However, the other three factors were in dispute. The Court held:
In order to analyze the question whether the function of the YMCA is predominantly charitable, it is necessary to view the entity from the perspective of the modern day YMCA and not the YMCA that was formed in June of 1844. The original purpose of the YMCA was to provide safe and affordable lodging to young men moving from rural areas to cities. That purpose evolved over the decades in response to improving social conditions. By the 1980s and 1990s, baby boomers with families became more prominent as members and the YMCA evolved into an organization designed to provide families with “opportunities to play, interact and have fun.” www.ymca.net/history/1960-1990s.html. In addition, the YMCA promotes physical fitness and healthy living. The YMCA provides, for a fee, gym memberships including classes such as spinning, Zumba, aerobics and racquetball. The facility also provides day care services, party rentals, and summer day camp. Viewing the dominant purpose of the YMCA from the viewpoint of its core character, the court finds that the core character of the modern-day YMCA is as a fitness center. The services the YMCA provides as well as the fees it charges are consonant with numerous other private fitness facilities. Accordingly, the court finds that the YMCA’s dominant purpose is not charity, but to serve as a valuable community fitness center for those who can afford to join.
Judge Mitterhoff went on to analyze the YMCA’s finances and found that the revenue was overwhelmingly derived from sources other than charitable donations. This opinion shows that charitable immunities will be viewed from a present-day perspective, and just because an institution started out with charitable immunities, doesn’t mean that protection will last forever.
In 1844, you could stay at the YMCA, in 2015 you can’t stay there but you can sue the YMCA. It’s time to get the band back together to update the lyrics. A copy of Judge Mitterhoff’s opinion may be found here.
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