July 5, 2011

Transportation Law Update, Volume 12, Number 6



By: Gary N. Stewart

On June 28, 2011, Governor Tom Corbett signed tort reform legislation in Pennsylvania, limiting liability for negligence of defendants in certain civil court cases, such as trucking/motor vehicle actions.  Supporters say this litigation will ensure that business owners or other defendants do not pay a disproportionate share of the damages for negligence that are awarded in civil court cases.

Under the prior law, any defendant who was found responsible for as little as 1% of the negligence was potentially liable to pay up to 100% of the total damages if the other co-defendants could not pay for their respective negligence that resulted in death or injury to a person or property.  Thus, the “old” joint and several liability law allowed a plaintiff’s lawyer to drag any potential “deep pocketed company” with possible little connection to the negligent act into the case and then argue that if they were found 1% at fault they would be required to pay the entire judgment.

New Law

The new law will only hold defendants found to be 60% or more at fault to be required to pay up to 100% of the damages if other co-defendants cannot pay.  Accordingly, if a defendant is found less than 60%, they will only pay their share.  However, a defendant can still be forced to pay 100% of the damages if (1) it was found to be liable for an intentional misrepresentation or  intentional tort, (2)  a  release or threatened release of a hazardous substance under the Hazardous Sites Cleanup Act; or (3) a civil action in which a defendant has violated Section 497 of the act of April 12, 1951 (P.L.90, No.21), known as the Liquor Code.

This law has taken a significant amount of time to enact and had been previously approved in 2002 and signed into law, but the Pennsylvania Supreme Court found fault in the legislative procedure used to adopt it.  Thereafter in 2006, the General Assembly again approved the Fair Share Act, but the governor at the time vetoed it.  The law became effective with Governor Corbett’s signing of the legislation on June 28, 2011.

Gary N. Stewart is the resident partner in the Firm’s Harrisburg office. He concentrates his practice in the area of commercial motor vehicle defense. He is admitted to practice in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Vermont and Rhode Island as well as before the U. S. District Courts for the Eastern, Middle and Western Districts of Pennsylvania, the District of New Jersey, the District of Massachusetts, the District of Rhode Island, the District of Connecticut and the U. S. Court of Appeals for the First and Third Circuits.

Gary can be reached directly at:

(717) 234-7730 or gstewart@rawle.com.

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