Sovereign Immunity - Time to Get Rid of This One!

The Virginia Supreme Court, in The Byrd Theatre Foundation v. Barnett, reaffirmed that sovereign immunity is "alive and well" in the Commonwealth.

Yipee. Its a bad doctrine that doesn't reflect reality.

A man who was working on the group's organ fell when the floor he was standing on "gave way." (Great job maintaining a safe place!)

The jury found in his favor, but the Byrd Theatre Foundation appealed, saying that "it didn't really matter that he was hurt through their carelessness, the are a chartitable organization that can't be sured."

The Supreme Court agreed that they were a charitable organization but allowed him to collect his money because at the time he fell he was not "a beneficiary of the charity's work."

Get this: the guy was volunteering to repair the organ at the time!

Here's the argument this charity's lawyers made:

  • Barnett was a beneficiary of the oranization's charitable purpose because
  • he was repairing an organ and he 'enjoyed' it, so
  • in permitting him to work on the organ the charity was making him happy.

That the organization could even make this argument with a straight face is sad. The "charitable immunity" doctrine is based on a centuries old notion that "the resources of charitable institutions are better used to further the organization's purpose than to pay valid claims of the people it injures.

It's 2014 folks! Organizations like The Byrd Theatre Foundation should have (and believe me, Byrd does have) insurance to protect those they injure.

We made similar arguments several years ago when our severely disabled client's leg was fractured while he was under the care of caretakers of Didlake, Inc. You can read the details of the claim here and here. We argued that Didlake is big business. The Byrd Theatre Foundation is big business.

What the Supreme Court should have done is to wipe out the doctrine from Virginia law. It's crazy.

Ben Glass
Ben Glass is a nationally recognized Virginia injury, medical malpractice, and long-term disability attorney
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