Tuesday, June 28, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett signed legislation into law that will amend the mechanics of civil liability in negligence cases – which includes most personal injury cases. The “Fair Share Act” as it has been coined, essentially replaces the current doctrine of joint and several liability that has ruled Pennsylvania since the Colonial era.
Under the previous and longstanding doctrine of joint and several liability, all guilty defendants were held potentially liable for 100 percent of the damages if their co-defendants could not pay for the negligence. Therefore, the plaintiff could have pursued a cause of action against any co-defendant(s) either jointly or individually. It then becomes the responsibility of the jointly liable defendants to sort out their respective proportions of liability and payment.
Now, the Fair Share Act provides that joint liability is applicable only when a defendant is found at fault for not less than 60 percent of the total liability apportioned to all parties. Therefore, defendants found to be less than 60 percent at fault would not have to pay more than their share of the damages. The Act does designate some exceptions for awards in circumstances including intentional misrepresentation, an intentional act, an environmental crime, or a liquor law violation.
This is not the first time joint and several liability was the subject of reform. A similar bill became law in 2002 but House Democratic leaders sued and state appellate courts overturned it on grounds that the bill into which it was written violated the Pennsylvania Constitution’s requirement that bills confine themselves to a single subject. Nevertheless, this time around, the bill was of top priority to Corbett and business groups, including the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry, and passed the GOP-controlled Legislature with solid Republican support.
Proponents of the Fair Share Act argued that the historical doctrine of joint and several liability unfairly punished businesses facing the threat of litigation simply because of their ability to pay a judgment for all co-defendants. Critics on the other hand argue on behalf of the plaintiffs who may not be able to obtain a full recovery from the negligent acts of multiple and insolvent tortfeasors. Regardless, the verdict is in and at least for now Fair Share Liability is Pennsylvania Law.
The Fair Share Act is effective immediately and is applicable to all causes of action accruing on or after June 28, 2011. If you are have a personal injury case involving negligence, contact an experienced Pennsylvania Personal Injury Lawyer for a free case consultation.