The Supreme Court of Arkansas (“Arkansas Supreme Court”) held in its opinion filed on April 11, 2019 that the defendant nursing home that had been sued for negligence that allegedly resulted in a resident’s painful death may be entitled to charitable immunity from the lawsuit.
The personal representative of the resident’s estate sued the defendant Arkansas nursing home, alleging (1) negligence, (2) medical malpractice, (3) breach of the admission agreement, (4) violations of the Long-Term Care Facility Residents’ Rights Act, and (5) breach of the provider agreement. The Arkansas nursing home wrongful death lawsuit alleged that while in the defendant nursing home’s care, the resident sustained numerous injuries, including multiple bedsores, improper catheter care that led to the erosion of his penis, multiple urinary-tract infections, skin tears, poor hygiene that contributed to the development and worsening of pressure sores, malnutrition, dehydration, aspiration, and ultimately, death.
The Arkansas nursing home wrongful death jury found the defendant nursing home was not entitled to charitable immunity. The defendant nursing home filed an appeal, arguing that (1) the circuit court improperly submitted the question of charitable immunity to the jury, (2) the circuit court inadequately instructed the jury on charitable immunity, and (3) the jury’s verdict was clearly contrary to the preponderance of the evidence and contrary to the law on charitable immunity.
The Arkansas Supreme Court stated that charitable immunity is immunity from suit, not simply immunity from liability. Imunity from suit is an entitlement not to stand trial or face the other burdens of litigation, while immunity from liability is a mere defense to a suit.
To determine whether an organization is entitled to charitable immunity, courts consider: (1) whether the organization’s charter limits it to charitable or eleemosynary purposes; (2) whether the organization’s charter contains a “not-for-profit” limitation; (3) whether the organization’s goal is to break even; (4) whether the organization earned a profit; (5) whether any profit or surplus must be used for charitable or eleemosynary purposes; (6) whether the organization depends on contributions and donations for its existence; (7) whether the organization provides its service free of charge to those unable to pay; and (8) whether the directors and officers receive compensation.
The Arkansas Supreme Court stated that when there are no disputed facts regarding a defendant’s charitable status, the determination of charitable status is a question of law for the court. However, disputed facts concerning an organization’s charitable status may be presented to a jury.
The Arkansas Supreme Court held in the case it was deciding that the ultimate question of charitable immunity is a matter of law for the court to decide, reversing and remanding the case for the circuit court to hear evidence and determine whether the defendant nursing home is entitled to charitable immunity. If the existence of charitable immunity turns on disputed factual issues, then the jury may determine the facts, and the circuit court will subsequently determine whether those facts are sufficient to establish charitable immunity.
Source Davis Nursing Association v. Neal, 2019 Ark. 91.
If you or a loved one suffered injuries (or worse) while a resident of a nursing home in Arkansas or in another U.S. state due to nursing home neglect, nursing home negligence, nursing home abuse, nursing home under-staffing, or the nursing home failing to properly care for a vulnerable adult, you should promptly find a nursing home claim lawyer in Arkansas (an Arkansas medical malpractice lawyer) or a nursing home claim lawyer in your state who may investigate your nursing home claim for you and file a nursing home claim on your behalf or behalf of your loved one, if appropriate.
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