Appellate Court Rules That Woman Cannot Sue Church For Injuries

An appellate panel ruled on June 24 that a woman who sustained personal injuries in a fall at a church where her teenage son was a member is unable to file suit because she is still considering a beneficiary of its mission meaning that a New Jersey state law protecting nonprofit organizations protects the church from liability.

The decision reversed the ruling of a trial judge and ordered that the lawsuit Joan Patterson filed against a church in Somerset County, New Jersey be dismissed.


According to the appellate court, New Jersey’s Charitable Immunity Act protects Liberty Corner Presbyterian Church from such a negligence case, even though the mother was not a member of the church.

The panel decided that through her choice to permit her son to attend the church, she was benefiting from the religious, spiritual, moral, and ethical education that he was receiving and is a therefore a beneficiary under the statue’s language, which makes the church immune from liability for the personal injuries she sustained.


Patterson’s attorney says that they have not decided whether or not to appeal the ruling. She said that Patterson had to undergo two surgical procedures and two rounds of physical therapy for her wrist, but still has less strength than before the fall.

In 2005, Patterson fell on ice when she was picking her 17-year-old son up from a youth meeting, causing her to suffer several broken bones in her wrist. She then filed suit, claiming negligence on the part of the church for failure to maintain the driveway.

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