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Charitable Immunity Rejected as Defense for Private College

As sexual assaults on college campuses continue to plague our society, Virginia courts are being forced to reconsider the balance between the rights of students to be safe on campuses and the need to provide immunity and protection to charitable organizations.

While private, non-profit schools have traditionally enjoyed a Virginia Wesleyan College and charitable immunity doctrinecharitable immunity status—protecting them from lawsuits based on negligence—a Norfolk Circuit Court judge recently concluded that a private college that realizes a profit every year, aggressively seeks collection from its debtors and does not depend on donations for its existence is not entitled to that charitable immunity. 

“Charitable immunity is an immunity from civil liability and particularly as regards negligent torts that is granted to a charitable or nonprofit organization. The legal doctrine of charitable immunity holds that a charitable organization is not liable under tort law.

“Charitable Immunity Act has been construed to immunize a church from a personal injury claim by a church member who trips and falls while exiting the church after attending services. [Thomas v. Second Baptist Church of Long Branch, 337 N.J. Super. 173 (App.Div. 2001)]” Source:; retrieved February 8, 2016.

“Jane gavelDoe” claims that Virginia Wesleyan College turned a blind eye to underage drinking, which contributed to her sexual assault.  The judge’s rejection of the charitable immunity defense allows Doe’s lawsuit against Virginia Wesleyan College for negligence, gross negligence, and fraud to move forward.

Bravo to Judge Lannetti for not allowing an outdated doctrine to re-victimize this young woman.