Why should a defendant in a civil case be responsible for paying the entire judgment when it’s only partially liable for an accident?
The question has been pondered for years in the commonwealth, which has one of the worst legal systems in the country. Tort reform received legislative traction in 2006; however, a reform bill died on then-Gov. Ed Rendell’s desk.
Harrisburg-based Susquehanna Polling & Research performed the survey of 800 registered voters from Feb. 24 to March 1. The study showed 82 percent support legislation to repeal so-called joint and several liability language, which holds a defendant that is 1 percent at fault still must pay 100 percent of damages.
For small businesses especially, a judgment — or simply the cost of defending a claim — could be fatal. For large companies — such as health care facilities — it opens the doors to frivolous lawsuits. As Kevin Shivers, state director of the National Federation of Independent Businesses, said Tuesday,
“You can prove in court that your business was only 1 percent responsible for the accident, but you could be held responsible for 100 percent of the damages simply because the guilty party doesn’t have any assets. That violates the most basic principles of fairness, which is why most states have abandoned the Pennsylvania model.”
Shivers, whose organization represents about 14,000 Pennsylvania small businesses, is referring to the 40 other U.S. states that have repealed or altered joint and several liability.
Businesses need protection if the commonwealth wants to attract new commerce, create jobs, keep costs of everything from goods and services to health care competitive and create a sustainable economy.
House Bill 1, known as the Fair Share Act, which was introduced by Rep. Curt Schroder, R-Chester, would protect businesses by changing how liability is divided between parties. Hearings on the bill began this week.
We urge the General Assembly to move quickly on HB 1; as well, we urge Gov. Tom Corbett to hold true to his promise and promptly sign the bill into law.