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Vitale, Cohen – ‘Court Decision On Charitable Immunity Holds Hope’

Legislators Say New Regulations Will Make it Easier for Abuse Victims to Seek Damages

TRENTON – Senator Joseph F. Vitale and Assemblyman Neil M. Cohen applauded today’s New Jersey Supreme Court decision which holds that John Hardwicke, a victim of sexual abuse, able to sue American Boychoir, the school that put him in harm’s way.

Last year, Senator Vitale and Assemblyman Cohen authored legislation breaking down the protection of “charitable immunity” for charitable organizations that, through negligence, put children in danger of being sexually abused. The measure was signed into law in January.

“John has suffered the scars of sexual abuse, only to be told time and again by American Boychoir that his pain was ‘inconvenient’ to their charitable mission,” said Senator Vitale, D-Middlesex. “With today’s ruling, John will get his day in court, and be given the chance to hold the school accountable for its unconscionable conduct and utter failure to reign in pedophiles in sheep’s clothing who preyed upon students at the school.”

“This ruling and our changes to the state’s charitable immunity law are not about punishing charitable organizations,” said Assemblyman Cohen, D-Union. “It always has been about protecting victims of abuse and assault, and providing access to justice. When the victim is a child, there should be no sanctum of refuge.”

“I am thankful for New Jersey’s legal system,” said Hardwicke, who worked with the legislators to push for charitable immunity reform in New Jersey. “Our Legislature restored victims’ rights and our courts interpreted the State’s laws fairly.”

The two legislators noted that the Court decision to allow Hardwicke’s lawsuit to take place, issued after two years of appeals, is rare. Prior to the changes in the State’s charitable immunity law, charities could use their statutory immunity as a shield, to strike down lawsuits without much debate.

While the Supreme Court decision referenced the changes in the state’s charitable immunity law, Hardwicke’s appeal was brought before the change, forcing the Court to adopt different standards to allow Hardwicke’s suit to take place. The suit only applies to willful or intentional wrongdoing on the part of American Boychoir.

“In the future, the reforms we brought to the State’s charitable immunity law will make it so much easier for people like John – victims who are being stonewalled by the charities that were supposed to protect them – to seek a small measure of justice,” said Senator Vitale. “Charities have a responsibility to step in when the safety of those in their care come into question. Under the reformed Charitable Immunity Act, they will be held to that responsibility.”

“The days of charities claiming immunity in an attempt to insulate themselves and avoid accountability for the actions of their employees and members are over,” said Assemblyman Cohen. “From this point forward, victims of abuse at the hands of charities will have a clear path to justice.”