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Abernathy v. Sisters of St. Mary’s

    Brief Fact Summary. The Plaintiff, Abernathy (Plaintiff), allegedly sustained injuries when the Defendant, Sisters of St Mary’s (Defendant), employee negligently failed to assist him as he moved from his bed to the bathroom. Plaintiff brought suit and the trial court granted Defendant’s motion for summary judgment based on the doctrine of immunity for charitable organizations.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. The reasons for the common law rule of immunity for nongovernmental charitable organizations are no longer applicable, therefore the Supreme Court of Missouri abolished the rule.

    Facts. The Plaintiff, Abernathy (Plaintiff), alleged that the Defendant’s employee negligently failed to assist him as he moved from his bed to the bathroom. This negligence resulted in Plaintiff falling and sustaining multiple injuries. Defendant moved for summary judgment, claiming that its status as a charitable institution provided it with immunity for its torts. The motion was sustained and judgment was entered for the Defendant.

    Issue. Should nongovernmental charitable institutions be provided with immunity for actions resulting from their negligence and the negligence of their employees?

    Held. No. Judgment reversed and cause remanded.
    * The doctrine of immunity for charitable organizations arose from the belief that it was better for the individual to suffer than for society to be deprived of the benefits of the charity. But today charities are big business, with most carrying insurance to pay for torts. To continue to allow immunity is not only unjust to the injured, but tends to breed neglect and irresponsibility.
    * Under the implied waiver theory, a person who accepts the benefit of a charity impliedly agrees not to assert any actions against the charity. However, this theory cannot be applied equally to all persons, especially considering that those admitted to a charitable hospital may be unconscious or under the age of consent.
    * Under the trust fund theory because a charitable institution’s funds are given and held for charitable purposes, they cannot be used to pay judgments resulting from tort claims. However, this theory deals only with the right to satisfaction of a judgment, therefore is not applicable to justify immunity from suit.
    Concurrence. Justice Donnelly’s concurrence is omitted.

    Discussion. A substantial majority of states have now abolished the charitable immunity doctrine.


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