A woman who fell and injured herself while attending a country music concert at Monmouth University cannot sue the school for damages, a New Jersey appeals court ruled on Monday in a divided decision that potentially sets the case up to be heard by the state Supreme Court.
Even though the nonprofit university made money by hosting the concert, by country music star Martina McBride, it still is immune from lawsuit under the state’s Charitable Immunity Act, and the show was a “cultural and educational” experience, said a 2-1 Appellate Division majority.
“Indeed, providing concerts open to the public is one of the stated purposes of the university,” Appellate Division Judge George Leone wrote for the majority in Green v. Monmouth University. He was joined by Judge Mitchel Ostrer.
Appellate Division Judge Clarkson Fisher Jr. dissented, saying a for-profit concert did not serve the university’s charitable purpose.
The plaintiff, Frances Green, was injured on Dec. 9, 2012, when she slipped and fell on a flight of stairs while attending a McBride Christmas concert, sponsored by the university and held at its Multipurpose Activity Center, according to the court.
She sued the school, but Monmouth County Superior Court Judge Katie Gummer, citing the Charitable Immunity Act, dismissed the lawsuit on summary judgment. Green appealed.
The two-judge majority upheld Gummer’s ruling, saying the Legislature, in enacting the CIA, meant for it to be read liberally to offer immunity in as many cases as possible.
“Although not a classical musician, McBride is an American country music performer,” Leone said. “Whether classical, country or Christmas, music is an art, and McBride is a musical artist. Thus, McBride’s concert was a ‘cultural and educational experience for patrons of this form of artistic production,’” he said, citing the Appellate Division’s 2001 ruling in Lax v. Princeton University.
“The university did not lose its charitable immunity by renting the [Multipurpose Activity Center] to host the McBride concert,” Leone said. “By attending, [Green] and the other members of the audience were beneficiaries of the educational offering by the university.”
Fisher countered: “I see no educational purpose of endeavor here,” he said. “The university saw a way to generate income when its [MAC] was unused.”
The ruling did not detail the extent of Green’s injuries.
She was represented by Stewart Leviss, of Roseland’s Berkowitz, Lichtstein, Kuritsky, Giasullo & Gross. John Kaelin III, of the Mount Laurel office of Haddix & Associates, represented Monmouth University. Both declined to comment.
Because the Appellate Division panel was split, the case is appealable as of right to the state Supreme Court.