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Cowan v. Hospice Support Care, Inc.
Virginia Supreme Court
603 S.E.2d 916 (2004)
Ingrid H. Cowan (plaintiff) placed her mother, Ruth D. Hazelwood (deceased), in a residential care facility that was operated by Hospice Support Care, Inc. (Hospice) (defendant), a nonprofit, nonmedical, volunteer hospice-support corporation. The facility provided temporary care for infirm persons when their primary caregivers needed a break. Cowan sued Hospice for the wrongful death of her mother, who died from complications from surgery to amputate her shattered right leg. Cowan alleged that her mother’s leg shattered at the care facility when it got caught on Cowan’s mother’s bed when she was being improperly assisted from her bed to a commode and that it went undiagnosed and untreated the entire week her mother was in residence. Hospice raised the charitable-immunity defense, and the trial court dismissed Cowan’s claims for gross negligence and willful and wanton negligence. Cowan appealed and argued that the defense was inapplicable to acts of gross negligence and willful or wanton negligence because they involve extreme acts that differ in degree and kind from simple negligence and that the public’s interest in encouraging charitable activities is not outweighed by the need to deter extreme, reckless, and wanton acts. Hospice argued that unless charities are immune from liability for all degrees of negligence, charities will be discouraged from performing their beneficial activities. Hospice further argued that because state law makes charitable volunteers liable for their acts of gross negligence and willful and wanton negligence, the legislature intended to shield charities from similar liability.
Rule of Law
Holding and Reasoning (Keenan, J.)
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