You can tell if an organization is a charity based on its charter or articles of incorporation. These documents will define the organization’s powers and purpose. If its charter creates a charitable organization and its funds come from public and private charitable contributions or gifts, then it is a charity.
Traditionally, charities were completely immune from liability. This is because charities help the needy, so courts decided they should be supported and not have their funds taken away through lawsuits. However, most courts have abandoned charitable immunity, reasoning that protecting people is more important than charity.
Some places give charities limited immunity, depending on the circumstances and who did the bad act. Others states protect a charity’s trust fund and properties from judgment. Also, there are still places that hold to the old rule of complete immunity from liability.
Even if a charity has complete or limited immunity, it can still be liable if it incurs liability while doing non-charitable activities. For example, if the charity operates a profit-making apartment, it can be liable as normal for any injury there because running the apartment is not within the scope of charitable activities. A court will determine if the dominant motive is charity or profit seeking. Additionally, charitable immunity does not apply to intentional acts by the charity that harm people, such as fraud.
Even if a charity is completely immune from tort liability, it may not be immune from breach of contract claims. Some states that do not allow tort actions against charities allow breach of contract actions. States that have no charitable immunity will allow breach of contract actions.
In states with charitable immunity, the trustees of the charity are immune from suit for acts of the charity. The trustee is only liable if he was personally at fault. Similarly, liability of volunteers and other employees of the charity is also limited to actions where they are personally at fault. When an employee can be liable for a tort, the charity may not be automatically liable. Some states do not make employers responsible for their employee’s actions if the employer is a charity.
If your state allows lawsuits against charities, you may bring tort actions against them just as would against other private organizations. Some examples include personal injuries, injuries from negligence, nuisances created by the charity, fraud, libel, and slander. Additionally, you can always sue a charity for any intentional injuries.
You may wish to consult with a personal injury lawyer to find out whether you are able to sue a charity in your state. If you decide to file a lawsuit against the charity, a lawyer will be essential in helping you navigate the complicated legal system.