The firm’s New Jersey office obtained a victory on an appeal of their summary judgment motion on the issues of choice of law for its client, United Percussion and Arts, Inc., in a personal injury action brought in New Jersey state court.
United Percussion and Arts, Inc. is a corporation organized exclusively for charitable, religious, educational, and scientific purposes. It is described as a “a non-profit group that is organized to help kids or members develop through the performing arts, specifically percussion performance.” United Percussion and Arts, Inc. is based in New Jersey. It participates in shows and competitions in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and other venues that vary from year to year. Members must audition. United Percussion and Arts, Inc. is not paid for performances and takes no monetary prize if the group wins a competition.
Plaintiff auditioned to join United Percussion and Arts, Inc. and she was ultimately selected to participate in the dance portion of the group’s routine. Due to Plaintiff’s limited financial resources, all membership dues were waived.
On the day of the accident, Plaintiff and co-defendants were on their way to a performance in Pennsylvania when the car veered off the road. As a result of the accident, Plaintiff was severely injured. Plaintiff sued the driver and owner of the vehicle as well as United Percussion and Arts, Inc. under the the guise that it was vicariously liable for the negligence of the driver of the car. Plaintiff claimed that the driver was acting on behalf of United Percussion and Arts, Inc. although the driver denied any such relationship. Additionally, an investigation discovered that the driver had violated the passenger threshold that his license allowed during this trip.
In its motion, the firm made a choice of law argument, arguing that the court should apply New Jersey law rather than Pennsylvania law. New Jersey’s Charitable Immunity Act states that a nonprofit corporation, society or association which is organized for religious, charitable or education purposes and its employees shall not be responsible for damages suffered by someone who is a beneficiary of the charity’s works. In light of the statutory language, most churches and religious institutions will be considered charities. However, various legal and factual questions will arise with other types of “charitable” entities such as schools, athletic associations, educational associations and schools. The next part of the analysis is whether or not the injured person in any way benefited from the charitable works of the organization. Of course, if one is receiving a direct benefit from the charity, one will clearly be considered a beneficiary of same. However, there are other scenarios where the existence of the beneficiary status is more complex.
The court underwent an exhaustive analysis under the “significant relationship” test and ultimately concluded that “the interests of the parties are best served by applying New Jersey Law to the New Jersey Charitable Organization and New Jersey residents.” The Court held that “it is reasonable for a New Jersey organization and a New Jersey resident, who was a beneficiary of such organization, to expect that the law of the state where that relationship conferred would govern any claims arising from the works of the organization.
Parties had been in tense negotiations for over a year. As the jury panel was waiting, the judge issued his opinion granting Barry McTiernan’s Summary Judgment Motion. Plaintiff subsequently appealed the decision. The Appellate Court affirmed the summary Judgment.
Partners Richard W. Wedinger and Laurel A. Wedinger-Gyimesi led the charge on crafting and arguing the motion for summary judgment.