Posts tagged as:

joint and several liability

Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania: “A jury in a Luzerne County civil case ruled that PennDOT was partially responsible for a deadly crash in 2011 that killed a 15-year-old girl, even though the driver of the SUV was driving at roughly twice the speed limit and did not have a driver’s license.” While the driver admitted he was going nearly 90 miles an hour when he lost control, the family’s lawyer “told jurors in closing arguments that PennDOT’s own manuals showed Suscon Road needed more so-called chevron signs that reflect light and warn of an upcoming sharp curve.” [WNEP]

{ 8 comments }

“[An Indiana appeals] court has found that an ever so slightly negligent (2%) business owner needs to pay for 99% of the harm caused by a murderer. Citing the Restatement (Third) of Torts. Section 14, a public policy in favor of adequately compensating the wronged … and the difficulty murderers have in procuring insurance to cover their rampages, the appellate court in Santelli v. Rahmatulla found that the Restatement provides a handy way of escaping Indiana’s reform of its joint and several liability rule.” [David Oliver] More: Point of Law (motel “[adhered] to the non-discriminatory EEOC principle of not performing criminal background checks”).

{ 30 comments }

Following the horrific murder-suicide of a woman who intentionally drowned herself and three of her four children, the woman’s estranged boyfriend is suing the city of Newburgh, N.Y. and its surrounding county for failing to prevent the crime. Joint and several liability reform would help, if only Albany were more sympathetic to the cause. [Thomas Stebbins, Poughkeepsie Journal; Daily News]

{ 1 comment }

July 6 roundup

by Walter Olson on July 6, 2011

{ 1 comment }

June 10 roundup

by Walter Olson on June 10, 2011

{ 1 comment }

February 22 roundup

by Walter Olson on February 22, 2011

{ 3 comments }

In 2007, on Highway 101 north of Ventura, Jeremy White plowed his pickup truck into a vehicle parked along the roadside, killing its driver and paralyzing a California highway patrolman who was standing alongside. White “pleaded guilty in September 2008 to gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated and selling and transporting marijuana. He was sentenced to 15 years.” While he had an insurance policy, its limit was a paltry $15,000. So which deep pockets will be left responsible for paying the nearly $50 million a jury has awarded in damages? The answer, apparently: 1) White’s insurance company, despite the policy limit, due to the magic of “insurance bad faith” law; 2) Bert’s Mega Mall in Covina, whose employees, according to the plaintiffs in the case, “didn’t properly strap down two dirt bikes in the back of White’s truck, which caused a distraction and contributed to the crash.”

After the trial ended Tuesday, the mall’s lawyer, Terrence Cranert, said they would appeal.

He said there was significant evidence the jury didn’t receive, including a statement from White’s passenger who told the CHP that he and White had stopped to smoke marijuana after leaving the mall. Cranert said they weren’t able to find White’s passenger for the trial, but felt the information should have been allowed.

The judge, however, disagreed.

White’s passenger also told the CHP that he and White went into the back of the truck and opened a tool box to get the marijuana, according to Cranert. “They would have to unstrap the motorcycles,” Cranert said.

[Ventura County Star reporting, liability and damages phases]

{ 7 comments }

Update: Branham v. Ford

by Ted Frank on August 19, 2010

In 2006, I wrote:

In May 2001, Cheryl Jane Hale was driving four children to a sleepover in her 1987 Ford Bronco. She didn’t bother to have the children wear their seat belts, so, when she took her eyes off the road to argue with the backseat passengers, and thus drove off the road and flipped the car, 12-year-old Jesse Branham was thrown from the car and suffered brain damage. A jury in Hampton County, South Carolina (the second jury to be impaneled—the first one was dismissed in a mistrial when it was discovered after two weeks of trial that five of the jurors were former clients of Branham’s lawyers) decided that this was only 45% Hale’s fault, held Ford 55% responsible, which puts Ford entirely on the hook for $31 million in damages.

On Monday, the South Carolina Supreme Court reversed because of prejudicial closing arguments that relied heavily on inadmissible evidence. More importantly for lawyers practicing in South Carolina, the Court adopted “the risk-utility test with its requirement of showing a feasible alternative design.”

How bad of a judicial hellhole is Hampton County? Though Hale was a co-defendant, she cooperated with the plaintiffs throughout the trial in their case against Ford, even sitting at the plaintiffs’ table; but because the judge classified Hale as a co-defendant, it meant that Hale got half of the peremptory challenges of the “defense.” More from Comer; no press coverage that I’ve seen yet. (cross-posted from Point of Law)

{ 2 comments }

No doubt there are also other reasons why councilors might vote to keep daredevil and extreme skateboarders off public streets, as the L.A. Times is reporting, but the liability climate can’t help:

In 2004, a 17-year-old boy skating down a Mission Viejo street hit “an alleged defect in the street and took a tumble. In a bicycle he would have rolled right over it,” [self-insurance pool executive Jonathan] Shull said.

The boy suffered a brain injury and his family filed suit, alleging municipal negligence and asking for money to help care for him for the rest of his life.

Under state liability law, a city might have to pay the full settlement if a jury finds it was even 1% liable for the injury, according to Shull.

{ 4 comments }

On November 14, 1999, high-school dropout Rolando Domingo Montez, celebrating his 19th birthday, was arrested for public intoxication and trespass after the owner of the boat on which he and his friends were sitting complained. Police placed him in Cell No. 1 of the Port Isabel City Jail. The next morning, Montez was permitted to make some collect calls from his jail cell to seek bail money from his mother, Pearl Iris Garza. Mom, complaining that Montez was in jail again, refused. But she generously came to pick up Montez on the 16th when he was released on his own recognizance. Unfortunately, while Garza was waiting in the lobby, and while police were responding to a call for assistance regarding a suspicious vehicle, Montez hung himself with the 19-inch phone cord from the phone he had used to make the calls.

[click to continue…]

{ 5 comments }

April 11 roundup

by Walter Olson on April 11, 2008

  • Plenty of reaction to our Tuesday post questioning the NYT school-bullying story, including reader comments and discussion at other blogs; one lawprof passes along a response by the Wolfe family to the Northwest Arkansas Times’s reporting [updated post]
  • Geoffrey Fieger, of jury-swaying fame, says holding his forthcoming criminal trial in Detroit would be unfair because juries there hate his guts [Detroit News]
  • Another Borat suit down as Judge Preska says movie may be vulgar but has social value, and thus falls into “newsworthiness” exception to NY law barring commercial use of persons’ images [ABA Journal]
  • Employer found mostly responsible for accident that occurred after its functionaries overrode a safety device, but a heavy-equipment dealer also named as defendant will have to pay more than 90 percent of resulting $14.6 million award [Bloomington, Ill. Pantagraph]
  • New Mexico Human Rights Commission fines photographer $6600 for refusing a job photographing same-sex commitment ceremony [Volokh, Bader]
  • “Virginia reaches settlement with families of VA Tech shooting victims” [Jurist]
  • Roger Parloff on downfall of Dickie Scruggs [Fortune]
  • Judge in Spain fined heavily and disbarred for letting innocent man spend more than a year in jail [AP/IHT, Guardian]
  • Hard to know whether all those emergency airplane groundings actually improved safety, they might even have impaired it [Murray/NRO "Corner", WSJ edit]
  • “Freedom of speech is an American concept, so I don’t give it any value” — tracking down the context of that now-celebrated quote from a Canadian Human Rights Commission investigator [Volokh]
  • Who was it that said that lawyers “need to be held accountable for frivolous lawsuits that help drive up the cost of malpractice insurance”? Hint: initials are J.E. [three years ago on Overlawyered]

{ 7 comments }

SUV suits follow-up

by Ted Frank on December 13, 2006

Some follow-up observations about the Ford Bronco $31 million verdict post.

1. South Carolina is one of the few states that has the pure form of the doctrine of “joint and several liability”, under which any deep-pocket defendant is 100% liable even if they’re only found 1% at fault. Thirty-seven states have enacted some limits on this, but South Carolina has not. Such a legal system creates incentives to find the deepest pocket and attach a shred of fault to them so that they are held entirely responsible for the consequences of others.

2. I’ve read several plaintiffs’ briefs arguing for upholding similar verdicts, as well as submissions made to NHTSA arguing that certain vehicles are “too prone” to roll over. They essentially come down to requests to ban SUVs: every SUV faces accusations of being “too prone to roll over.”

SUVs are designed to have high clearance to traverse rugged terrain. This raises the center of gravity and affects the handling: it’s a known tradeoff of the laws of physics. There are a wide variety of tests of varying degrees of scientific merit one can use to suggest a vehicle is “too prone” to roll over, and plaintiffs have the benefit of cherry-picking which tests to apply to which vehicles. You’ll find lots of lawyers complaining that the Bronco II allegedly responded poorly in “J-turn tests”, where the steering wheel is turned 330 degrees in one third of a second and held there for another 4.67 seconds. Ford designed the Explorer to pass the J-turn test to take away this claim, and the trial lawyers started using different methodologies to claim that the Explorer was too prone to roll over.

Empirically, however, the Bronco doesn’t roll over more than several other SUVs on the market, which is why NHTSA, in both the Bush I and Clinton administrations, refused to recall the Bronco when the plaintiffs’ bar asked it to. When I say Ford was held liable for producing an SUV, I’m not spinning: it was because it was held liable for producing an SUV.

Moreover, a vehicle should be viewed in totality: an auto that is more likely to roll over may be safer in other particulars that more than compensate for that increased propensity. So I question the premise. One can’t change the rollover propensity without creating a different vehicle entirely. The vehicle should be viewed holistically, and holistically, the Bronco is a safe car when used as designed.

Perhaps we as a society would be better off taking the nanny-state step of banning SUVs, forbidding people from wildnerness driving because too many drivers don’t know how to drive SUVs in highway conditions, but that’s a decision that not only would end the American auto industry, but should be made other than by a 12-person jury of laypeople. This vehicle rolled over because the driver drove off the road.

3. The ultimate cost is borne not by Ford, but by the rest of us: lawsuits like this add $500 to the price of every American car. You and I can’t go to the car manufacturer and get a cheaper car by promising not to be as stupid a driver as this one was. So careful drivers are subsidizing careless ones.

4. It’s unlikely that the $500 applies equally to expensive and cheap cars, but not in the manner you think: (1) the less expensive car is more likely to be driven longer and more often and with more carpooling passengers; (2) less likely to have expensive top-of-the-line safety features that haven’t yet become standard and thus more likely to be sued over the lack of those features; and (3) more likely to be sold in such a volume that trial lawyers have put together a cheap package targeting the vehicle for lawsuit in the hopes of achieving economies of scale by targeting a lot of potential plaintiffs. (There will never be a mass tort for a Rolls Royce, for example—not enough of them are sold.) Note that the plaintiffs’ bar puts profits before people: they look at the costs and benefits of bringing suit, and target the most profitable vehicles to sue over, rather than the most dangerous ones, which is why the Ford Pinto is notorious and the VW Beetle (whose designers were so inconsiderate to write their memos in German instead of cheap-to-analyze English), which killed people at a much higher rate, is remembered with fond nostalgia.

So average liability is, if anything, higher for cheap cars than expensive cars; the $500 figure (which comes directly from the president of Chrysler) is probably higher for cheap cars and lower for expensive cars, and perhaps close to zero for the Rolls.

{ 7 comments }