Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett recently signed so-called "Fair Share" liability legislation into law. Unfortunately, it is anything but fair to those injured by the negligence of corporate and other wrong-doers.
The law severely limits the legal doctrine of joint and several liability in Pennsylvania which dates back to colonial times. That doctrine held that an aggrieved party could hold one defendant responsible for the entire spectrum of damages and placed the burden of sorting out potential responsibility among other defendants on that party, rather than forcing the injured party to do so. The impetus behind the joint and several concept was the notion that corporate type defendants, because of resources and knowledge, are much more able to sort out liability issues than the injured individual. Nothing has changed except that business interest lobbying efforts and campaign donations have tilted the political landscape in their favor. The losers? The injured.
The new law dictates that a responsible party can only be held liable for all damages if it is determined that they are 60 percent or more responsible for the damages. Business interests hail the passage of the law, while the Pennsylvania Association of Justice (PJA) decries its passage as an assault on the civil justice system. In doing so, PJA President Ken Rothweiler noted that the new law protects business but does not create jobs and in many cases, shifts the burden of taking care of injured people to tax payers when some or all of the responsible parties cannot be held accountable for their wrongdoing. That is not right.
Unfortunately, many other states did away with joint and several liability years ago. Pro business Utah, of course, is no exception. In fact, Utah’s statute on the issue is one that is particularly punitive to the injured. Defendants always try to maximize the blame of the injured in bringing about, or "contributing" to the circumstances that harmed them. Sometimes, rightfully so. But in Utah, if a defendant can demonstrate that the injured was 50 percent or more responsible for what happened to them, the injured recover nothing. That’s right, nothing. Does that seem fair? Of course not, but the corporate community will not stop pushing for such limitations until virtually all, if not all avenues for holding them accountable for their negligence are closed. Keep an eye out for these efforts and make your voice in support of accountability heard when you see them.
Bret Hanna of Wrona DuBois in Utah, focuses exclusively on litigating plaintiffs’ medical malpractice and catastrophic personal injury cases. He has represented clients in state and federal courts, in mediations, and in administrative proceedings in Michigan and Utah since 1991.