Plaintiff was a patient at defendant’s hospital. During his stay, plaintiff was injured when one of defendant’s employees failed to assist him. Plaintiff sued for personal injuries, alleging that the employee’s failure to assist was an act of negligence. Defendant claimed it was immune from liability under the doctrine of charitable immunity.
A nongovernmental charitable institution is not immune from suit; the institution is liable for its own negligence and for the negligence of its agents and employees acting within the scope of their employment.
Abernathy (plaintiff) was a patient at Sisters of St. Mary’s (defendant) hospital. During his stay, Abernathy attempted to move from his bed to the bathroom. A hospital employee did not assist him as he moved. Abernathy fell and suffered multiple injuries as a result. Abernathy brought suit against Sisters of St. Mary’s for $35,000 in damages. Abernathy claimed that the failure of one of the hospital’s employees to assist him was negligence. Sisters of St. Mary’s moved for summary judgment, claiming that it was shielded from liability under the doctrine of charitable immunity. The motion was sustained and the trial court entered judgment in favor of Sisters of St. Mary’s. Abernathy appealed to the Supreme Court of Missouri.
Whether a charitable institution is immune from liability in a negligence suit based on the tortious acts of one of its employees?
No, a charitable institution is liable for its own negligence and for the negligence of its agents and employees. The court abolishes the doctrine of charitable immunity in Missouri. The case is reversed and remanded in light of this opinion.
There are two arguments typically used in favor of the doctrine of charitable immunity. Under the theory of “implied waiver”, a person who accepts the benefit of charity implicitly agrees not to sue the institution. Under the “trust fund” theory, a charitable institution’s funds may not be used to pay judgments arising from tort claims. Both theories are unpersuasive. For instance, it is impossible to say that a grievously injured or unconscious person carried into the emergency room of a charitable hospital waives their rights to accept benefits. Furthermore, the disdain against using charitable funds to satisfy a judgment does mean that an injured person is barred from maintaining an action to secure a judgment in the first place. The doctrine of charitable immunity is outdated and is no longer good law in the state.