New Pennsylvania Law Limits Joint and Several Liability

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On June 28, 2011, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett signed into law Senate Bill 1131; and in doing so, the future of joint and several liability in Pennsylvania was reduced to a list of exceptions. The new law provides that "where liability is attributed to more than one defendant, each defendant shall be liable for that proportion of the total dollar amount awarded as damages in the ratio of the amount of that defendant's liability to the amount of liability attributed to all defendants and other persons to whom liability is apportioned."

This is a distinct change from prior Pennsylvania law, in which each defendant could be held responsible for the total verdict, not based upon the proportion of liability attributed to each defendant. The change may be more noticeable in strict liability matters involving asbestos actions and similar mass tort cases, where previously plaintiffs could hold a defendant whose products were a minor portion of the plaintiffs' overall exposures liable for a per-capita share of liability.1 The new law also requires the courts to "enter a separate and several judgment in favor of the plaintiff and against each defendant for the apportioned amount of that defendant's liability." Previously, a judgment could be entered against one defendant for the entire verdict, with that defendant's only remedy to seek contribution from the joint tortfeasors. With this new legislation, separate judgments for defendants found less than 60-percent liable eliminates this practice.

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