Court Weakens Immunity Shield for Nonprofits

The Jersey Journal
August 9, 2006

A state law protecting nonprofit organizations from negligence lawsuits does not apply to all sex abuse cases, the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled yesterday, dealing a blow to a music school being sued by a former student who claimed he was sexually abused.

The high court's decision stems from sex abuse claims involving administrators at the prestigious American Boychoir School in Princeton.

The ruling allows John W. Hardwicke Jr. to continue suing the music school. Hardwicke alleges that he was repeatedly molested by the school's music director and three other employees from 1969 to 1971, when he attended the school.

The decision also said that employers can be held responsible for claims against their employees even if workers' actions are outside the scope of their employment, a ruling that may have far-reaching effects for employers statewide.

Since January 2001, Hardwicke has been fighting for the right to sue the school.

"The rule before had said that charities weren't responsible for the intentional acts of their employees," said Hardwicke attorney Lawrence Lessig.

In January, a bill was passed by the Legislature and signed into law by then-Gov. Richard J. Codey making New Jersey the 48th state to allow victims of childhood sex abuse to sue churches, schools and other nonprofits for the actions of their staff.

The bill was co-sponsored by Assemblyman Anthony Chiappone, D-Bayonne.

"Of course I'm thrilled to be able to bring justice to people who were abused as children whether through the church or other nonprofit entities," Chiappone said. "It shows justice can be obtained even after years have gone by."

Bonnie Friedman and the Associated Press contributed to this report.


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