Vitale Charitable Immunity Bill Approved By Assembly

TRENTON – A bill sponsored by Senator Joseph F. Vitale which would amend the State’s charitable immunity clause to allow sexual assault victims to sue charitable organizations when those organizations negligently hired or retained in their employment a sexual predator, was approved today by the Assembly by a vote of 63-5, with 9 abstentions.

“This is a victory that’s been a long time coming for the victims and their families who have had to live through the nightmare of sexual abuse,” said Senator Vitale, D-Middlesex, the Chairman of the Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee. “For too long, we’ve given charitable organizations a shield from litigation, even when the charity has negligently put the lives and psychological well-being of children at risk. Now, we are one step away from justice for those who have suffered long enough.

“So many advocates have given so much of their time to get this bill passed,” added Senator Vitale. “People like Mark Crawford, and John Hardwicke have pushed this to the forefront and have used their pain to educate us all. This approval today is vindication for all of them and their families.”

The bill, S-540, would allow victims of sexual assault, who were abused while under the care of a charitable organization, to bring lawsuits against the organization if it can be shown that the organization acted with neglect in regards to hiring and retaining employees with histories of criminal activity or sexual deviancy. The organizations would also be liable for cases of abuse that fall within New Jersey’s statute of limitations for sexual abuse lawsuits, meaning that children who were abused but have not reached the age of maturity, which is set at age 20 by State statute, can bring a lawsuit against a charitable organization.

“This bill is a simple question of justice for those who’ve been put in harm’s way by the veiled negligent actions of a charitable organization,” said Senator Vitale. “In some cases, sexual predators have been hidden in the framework of a charity, and granted sanctuary, even while they were still given access to the kids they were abusing. This is not a question of the actions of one degenerative person, but rather the systemic and institutional practice of tucking a terrible little secret under the carpet, thus enabling sexual predators to continue their abuse in secret.

“For those charitable organizations who are guilty of such subterfuge, they should be held to the standards of justice in a court of law,” added Senator Vitale. “Immunity is no longer an option for those charities who have acted negligently and have enabled the sexual molestation of a child.”

The bill was originally approved by the Senate in May of 2004, and will now come back to the Upper House for concurrence with Assembly amendments, before going to the Governor’s desk to be signed into law.

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