In the recent unpublished matter of Pantano v. Newark Museum (February 11, 2016), the  Appellate Division reinforced limitations to the protections of the Charitable Immunity Act,  N.J.S.A. 2A:53A-7 to -13-1 (the “Act”). The Pantano Court reversed the Trial Court’s order granting summary judgment to the defendants, Newark Museum and Newark Museum Association (the “Museum”), on the basis that the plaintiff’s complaint was barred by the Act.

By way of background, the plaintiff, Loredana Pantano (“Pantano”), slipped and fell on icy steps at the entrance to the Museum on the morning of February 9, 2012. Pantano, an attorney employed by a nonprofit organization, La Casa de Don Pedro (“La Casa”), was directed to go to the Museum on the day of her fall by La Casa’s director of personal development for an educational panel discussion.

Although the Museum occasionally rented its facilities to the public to generate income, it was undisputed that the Museum was a nonprofit association organized exclusively for charitable, artistic, scientific, educational, historical and cultural purposes. The Museum was not open to the public on the day of Pantano’s fall, and guests of the panel discussion were not permitted to visit the Museum’s exhibits.

Pantano’s suit claimed that the Museum negligently maintained its premises, resulting in her fall on the icy steps. The Museum ultimately moved for summary judgment, contending that Pantano was a direct beneficiary of its charitable endeavors and claiming immunity under the Act. Pantano cross-moved for summary judgment, arguing that the Act did not apply. Specifically, Pantano argued that she was not a direct beneficiary of the Museum’s charitable purposes because: 1) the Museum was not engaged in a charitable purpose at the time of her fall since the facility was being rented for income to host the educational panel discussion, and 2) she was required to attend the event by her employer, La Casa.

The trial judge rejected Pantano’s arguments and granted summary judgment to the Museum. On appeal, the Court found that Pantano was not a direct recipient of the Museum’s charitable works, based upon a fact-sensitive analysis. The Court relied, in part, upon the New Jersey Supreme Court’s decision in Mayer v. Fairlawn Jewish Center. In Mayer, the Court held that the plaintiff was not a recipient of the defendant Jewish Center’s benefactions because he was there in fulfillment of his function and obligation as an employee to engage in the employer’s work at the direction of the employer, and not for the purpose of personally receiving the philanthropy of the Center.

Accordingly, the Appellate Division held that Pantano, who was ordered on the day of her fall to attend the panel discussion at the Museum by her employer, La Casa, was not a direct beneficiary of the Museum’s charitable works. The appellate panel reversed the order granting summary judgment to the museum and remanded the matter to the Law Division.

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