Governor Tom Corbett recently signed the "Fair Share Act." This legislation brings Pennsylvania out of the minority of states regarding the method used to assign liability in personal injury cases. Our state has now joined over 40 others in abandoning the theory of joint and several liability. There is a significant difference between the two methods:
- Joint & Several Liability – the old law: Under this method, if there were multiple Defendants determined to be at fault in a personal injury case, any of the Defendants could be required to pay 100% of the damages awarded to the injured party. The payment could be awarded regardless of the Defendant’s percentage of fault in the sustained injury. For example, if one of the Defendants was found to be 1% at fault in the case, the individual or business could still be required to pay in excess of 1% of the damages, even up to 100%, if the other Defendants were unable or unlikely to pay their shares.
- Fair Share Act – the new law: This law eliminates the joint and several component in Pennsylvania’s liability laws. Under the new Act, Defendants will only be held liable to pay the percentage of damages for which they have been found to be at fault. There are exceptions if their damages exceed 60%. Using the same example as above, a Defendant who was found to be 1% at fault in a case, will only be required to pay 1% of the monetary damages awarded even if the other Defendants are unable or unlikely to pay their shares.
The Fair Share Act will apply in most tort cases. Torts are wrongful acts where injured parties can seek damages in civil courts. The following categories of torts are exceptions: intentional torts, torts of intentional misrepresentation, torts that would fall under the Hazardous Site Clean-Up Act or Dram Shop liability.
So, is the Fair Share Act good for Pennsylvania? The answer seems to depend on personal opinions on a number of issues. There appears to be a clear difference of opinion that follows political party lines. Generally, Democrats, and those concerned with victims’ rights and compensation for those who suffer injuries, have suggested that the Act has the potential to leave "severely injured" Plaintiffs without a way to fully recover, financially and otherwise, from the injuries they sustained. On the other side, Republicans, and those who promote business expansion and business interests, suggest that the former Pennsylvania law was abused to bring deep-pocket corporate Defendants into civil actions in order to recover disproportionate amounts from them. They further argue that potentially limiting a corporate Defendant’s liability will increase job growth and encourage the creation of businesses in the state.
Regardless of whether this new change in legislation will be positive or negative for the state, it is important to be aware of the change. The Fair Share Act can have a significant impact for individuals and businesses who may find themselves involved in a personal injury case as a Plaintiff or Defendant.
Aaron Zeamer is an attorney at Russell, Krafft & Gruber, in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. He received his law degree from Widener University and practices in a variety of areas including Civil Litigation and Personal Injury.