Maryland Defendant Entitled to Charitable Immunity from Liability in Lead Paint Case

In rare cases, a defendant may be relieved from liability due to immunity provided by law. In Ward v. Rebuilding Together Baltimore, Inc. (Md. Ct. Spec. App. June 8, 2016), the court was faced with the question of whether the plaintiff was barred from recovering from a charitable organization in a negligence claim arising out of her alleged lead paint exposure.

In Ward, the plaintiff filed a complaint claiming that she suffered from lead-based paint induced injuries due to the defendant’s disruption of paint dust during a renovation of a building in which the plaintiff lived from 1992 to 1999. The defendant raised charitable immunity as an affirmative defense and filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing that it was immune from tort liability pursuant to Maryland’s doctrine of charitable immunity. The trial court granted the defendant’s motion, and the plaintiff appealed.

Charitable immunity is a doctrine intended to protect charitable organizations from tort liability on the theory that charitable funds should not be diverted to pay tort damages awards. To establish that an organization is entitled to charitable immunity, the organization has the burden to prove that:  (1) its predominant activities are charitable in nature; (2) its funds are held in trust, either expressly or by implication, for the furtherance of the charitable purpose; and (3) it has no liability insurance covering the alleged tort.

In Maryland, notably, the charitable immunity defense is not restricted to charitable trusts but may be allowed when the assets of the charitable organization are held in trust by implication, if the situation meets the other requirements of the doctrine.  Whereas assets are “expressly” held in trust when they are held subject to a trust indenture that restricts their use to charitable purposes, assets are held in trust by implication when the articles of incorporation restrict the use of corporate assets to charitable purposes.

On appeal, the Maryland court found that the evidence presented by the defendant was sufficient to establish that it was a charitable organization. Despite the fact that there was no specific trust indenture, the court noted that the defendant’s articles of incorporation stated that it is organized exclusively for charitable and educational purposes.  The court also pointed to the fact the defendant was certified by the IRS as a charitable organization under Section 501(c)(3). In viewing all of the evidence, the appeals court affirmed the decision of the trial court granting the defendant charitable immunity against the plaintiff’s negligence claim.

Negligence actions arising out of lead paint exposure can be complex, especially when the parties responsible are charitable or government organizations.  The Maryland injury attorneys at Foran & Foran, P.A. provide dedicated legal representation to individuals who have been harmed by negligent people or businesses, including those involved in premises liability claims, medical malpractice cases, car accident cases, and others. To discuss your case with one of our experienced attorneys, contact us at (301) 441-2022 or online.

More Blog Posts:

Plaintiff Wins Appeal in Maryland Lead Paint Case, Summary Judgment Reversed, Maryland Personal Injury Blog, published October 4, 2015

Maryland Court of Special Appeals Addresses Discovery Issue in Lead Paint Suit, Maryland Personal Injury Blog, published July 31, 2015

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