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The Byrd Theatre Foundation v. Barnett

August 5, 2020

The Virginia Supreme Court recently held that a volunteer could sue a nonprofit corporation for his personal injuries.  The facts of the case involved a man’s claim for injuries against a national historic landmark theater in Richmond, Virginia relating to an injury he suffered while repairing an organ in the building.  Plaintiff, an organ enthusiast, had a passion for the preservation and restoration of theater organs.  He served on the Foundation’s organ subcommittee in an advisory capacity.  During a period in which the subcommittee was without an organ technician, plaintiff volunteered to undertake certain necessary repairs to the organ. He was injured while performing some repairs. The appeal centered around a review of the  trial court’s finding on the issue of whether the plaintiff was a beneficiary of the Byrd Theatre Foundation, which would make the Foundation immune to the claim.  The Supreme Court agreed with the trial court’s reasoning that the plaintiff was not receiving the bounty of the Foundation’s charitable works at the time of his accident. It stated that the receipt of personal satisfaction or pleasure gained through the donation of one’s services to a charity does not create a “beneficial relationship” with the charity for purposes of charitable immunity. As a result, the Supreme Court of Virginia affirmed the trial court’s denial of the nonprofit’s plea of charitable immunity.