Here is an interesting but tragic case currently in trial in King County, Washington. Maria Federici, a then 24-year-old woman was gravely injured when an entertainment center flew from a U-Haul trailer attached to a vehicle operated by another motorist. It smashed through the windshield of Federici’s following vehicle, striking her in the face crushing every bone in it. She suffered blindness and permanent disfigurement. Media accounts are here, here and here.
I’m not posting to criticize Federici’s suit per se. It has noteworthy flaws to be sure–for instance there is evidence suggesting her blood alcohol content (BAC) was above the legal limit while she was driving, but the BAC was obtained under circumstances suggesting the results were unreliable (the injury trauma and resultant blood loss may have affected the BAC.) And her boss testified that she had only one glass of wine prior to the accident. Notably, the court disallowed the BAC evidence at trial.
So, Federici sues the motorist who failed to tie down the entertainment center, U-Haul and the rental company for alleged design flaws in the trailer and alleged negligent rental practices. Okay, so the motorist can own up for his negligence and U-Haul and the agency can own up for theirs, right? Not so fast. Washington State allows for a fault-free plaintiff to recover all damages from any defendant even 1% at fault.
With or without evidence of intoxication I wonder if Federici could have avoided anything flying toward her while traveling at freeway speeds. So, let’s assume the jury assigns her zero fault. That leaves 100% of potential fault for the defendants. Now, if you read the media accounts it seems to me that the motorist carries the majority of any fault for failing to secure his load, causing the accident. But, who has the deepest pockets? Let me help you: it’s not the motorist.
The plaintiff attorney in this instance will pull out the stops–do anything–to implicate U-Haul, and to a lesser extent the rental agency for any little amount of liability they can so that his client can collect the entire judgment from them (I suspect U-Haul has sufficient assets; the rental agency, if the Mom-and-Pop type, maybe not.) I don’t blame the plaintiff’s attorney, really–he has to advocate his client’s interests. But, it shows how twisted and wrongheaded the joint & several statute is in Washington. Nothing against Federici here, she’s suffered enough. But I struggle with holding some people accountable for damages caused by others. Does this make any sense to you?
The Mission of the American Association for Justice is to promote a fair and effective justice system – and to support the work of attorneys in their efforts to ensure that any person who is injured by the misconduct or negligence of others can obtain justice in America’s courtrooms, even when taking on the most powerful interests.
I’m all for that! Especially that part that says “fair”. Is it fair to hold a 1% wrongdoer accountable for 100% of the damages? If so, why? Because I don’t agree and I’d like to know if I’m wrong. And, I just know the AAJ would scream bloody murder if anyone tried to amend that statute.