Vanderbilt Law Review

First Page



The doctrine of charitable tort immunity was conceived in England in 1861. The case of Holliday v. Leonard' held that to apply funds in trust to satisfy a tort claim would be to thwart the intent of the donor. In 1871, Holliday was overruled and since then charities in England have been liable for their torts. Apparently unaware that the Holliday case had been overruled, the courts of Massachusetts and Maryland' cited it as authority and established the immunity rule in America. From the beginning, the doctrine was not without its dissenters. In 1879, for example, Rhode Island rejected immunity. The last ninety years in this country have seen the liability of charities move from complete liability to almost complete immunity and back to almost complete liability. The doctrine has fallen into such disfavor that most modern commentators condemn it as an antiquated remnant of times long past and confidently predict its imminent demise. The doctrine, simply stated, is that a charity is not liable for its torts.