St. Mary's Law Journal


Sidney Gibson


Southern Methodist University v. Clayton limited and clarified the scope of the charitable immunity doctrine in Texas, making it the leading opinion on the doctrine’s scope as of 1943. Clayton held charitable organization are liable to an employee for injuries proximately caused by the negligence of its agents but not liable to others in absence of proof of negligence on part of charity in employing or keeping the agent. Clayton’s progenies subsequently added two refinements: a charity is liable to an injured party, if, through negligence, improper equipment for treatment or service is used and causes an injury; and the purchase of liability insurance does not act as a waiver of immunity. The opinion in Clayton weighed public policy considerations and determined publicly derived benefits of charities outweigh the individual loss that might be incurred by injured person deprived of recourse for tortious act. However, these economic reasons no longer exist. Many charities are large business corporations and liability insurance is readily available. In 1966, Texas Supreme Court had opportunity to review charitable immunity in light of modern conditions in Watkins v. Southcrest Baptist Church. Instead, the court reaffirmed the doctrine seemingly on stare decisis on the stipulation that charities had come to rely on Clayton and had not taken steps to protect themselves against prosecution. Further, the legislature, not the judiciary, must change conditions, if they are to be changed. The opinion in Villarreal v. Santa Rose Medical Center of the San Antonio Court of Civil Appeals exists as one of several different interpretations of Watkins and demonstrates the need for the Texas Supreme Court to definitely rule on the issue of charitable immunity. Without the court doing so, the possibility of a doctrinal checkerboard in Texas presents itself.


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