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Volunteers can Sue for Personal Injury

Charitable immunity is a legal doctrine that ensures that a charity is immune from lawsuits filed by beneficiaries of that charitable organization. In a recent case, Byrd Theatre Foundation V. Barnet, the appeals court reviewed the point at issue in the trial court: whether or not the plaintiff had been a beneficiary of the organization. The appeals court found that the plaintiff was, in fact, not a beneficiary and eligible to file suit against the theatre.

For many years, the plaintiff had performed restoration and repair work for the theatre. During a time in which the theatre was without an organ technician, the plaintiff offered to make the needed repairs for the organ. As he was making the repairs, he stepped on a wooden plank which broke and caused the plaintiff to fall four feet. The court found that the Foundation's mission is to restore and preserve the theatre, and is not a place in which organ enthusiast come to practice their hobby. In fact, the theatre hired repairmen to fix their organ. The plaintiff's personal satisfaction from fixing the organ does not make him a beneficiary of the organization. Because of this, it was affirmed that the Foundation was liable for the plaintiff's injuries.