In June 2011, Pennsylvania governor Tom Corbett signed a bill into law that caps liability for some defendants involved in negligence cases. Gov. Corbett had previously indicated that such legislation was one of his top priorities for the 2011 session. Pennsylvania Republicans and leaders in the state's business community lobbied hard to pass the bill, arguing that it would make the state a more business-friendly climate, over the vociferous objections of some Democrats, who worry that the bill will punish innocent victims while protecting wealthy businesses.
Details of the Fair Share Act
Currently in Pennsylvania, defendants in personal injury negligence suits face "joint and several liability." This means that if there are several defendants in a lawsuit for wrongful death, personal injury or injury to property, all of them are financially liable for the entire amount of the award to the plaintiff. Theoretically, if a defendant was only one percent at fault, he or she could be responsible for the entire award to the plaintiff if the plaintiff chooses to collect from only one defendant.
The new legislation changes Pennsylvania to a "several liability" system for defendants who are less than 60 percent at fault, meaning that each defendant is only responsible for the percentage of the award to the plaintiff equal to the percentage that the defendant was at fault. In other words, if the finder of fact attributes 25 percent liability to one defendant and the total damages award to the plaintiff is one million dollars, that defendant will only be responsible for paying $25,000.
The new law carves out four exceptions to the several liability system. The state will maintain joint and several liability in the following types of claims:
•· Intentional misrepresentations
•· Intentional torts
•· Liquor Code violations
•· Hazardous Sites Clean-Up Act violations
Impact of the Legislation
The Fair Share Act will have a potentially significant impact on those who bring lawsuits in Pennsylvania courts. While supporters of the bill argue that the new law will erase the state's reputation as a litigious area skewed towards plaintiffs and reduce insurance premiums for business in the state, those opposed to the bill point out that there is no evidence to show that job growth or insurance premium reductions follow the passage of such liability systems.
Additionally, instead of decreasing the amount of lawsuits and the number of parties that individual plaintiffs name in a lawsuit, opponents of the law say it may actually encourage plaintiffs to name more defendants in the lawsuit to ensure that they will receive full payment for the losses that they have suffered.
Furthermore, the law makes collecting an award for damages much more complicated for plaintiffs. The onus is now on the plaintiff to go collect the money that he or she won in the lawsuit from a variety of defendants - rather than allowing the plaintiff to simply collect from one wrongdoer and force those at fault to fight out payment amongst themselves.
Trying to return life to normal after an injury as the result of someone else's negligence is a daunting challenge. Litigating to receive compensation for the losses connected with the negligence is an even greater challenge - especially as the political climate becomes even more unfriendly to the idea of compensating those who have suffered because of the carelessness of another. If you have been injured due to someone else's actions, do not hesitate to contact an experienced attorney who can discuss your situation with you and advise you on your options.