Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Joint & Several Liability Still the Law in Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell vetoed Senate Bill 435 which would have eliminated joint & several liability for defendants found less than 60% at fault.  (The bill also carried exceptions allowing joint & several liability in the case of intentional misrepresentation, intentional torts, and a couple of statutory violations relating to hazardous material releases and liquor code violations.)

The governor, in his veto letter, said he still believes that reforms in joint & several liability are necessary:

. . . I am vetoing Senate Bill 435 because it does not effectively balance the critical needs of victims who should be adequately compensated for their injuries with the reasonable needs of businesses to limit their exposure to liability for damages caused by other parties.

In the days since the passage of Senate Bill 435, I have received letters from many business associations and business leaders whom I greatly respect all urging me to sign this legislation into law.  I have also received many letters from union and consumer groups (such as the American Association of Retired Persons and Mothers Against Drunk Driving) all urging me to veto this legislation.  Just as our businesses have given me telling examples of the unfairness and harm that is caused to them by the current law, consumer organizations have given me just as telling examples of how victims – many times the children of parents killed by negligent actions – would be left without adequate compensation for their loss.

I believe we must find a better way – a law that will balance the equities between our businesses and the victims of negligence.

Gov. Rendell specifically cites efforts by Sen. Greenleaf and Rep. Gannon to reach a compromise as good examples.  Point of Law is skeptical of the reasons given for the veto.

The vetoed bill also had some interesting provisions relating to assumption of risk in the context of downhill skiing and off-road vehicle use (at least interesting to me, since we're in the middle of assumption of risk in my evening Torts class):

10     (B.3)  OFF-ROAD VEHICLE RIDING.--
    11         (1)  OFF-ROAD VEHICLE RIDING AREA OPERATORS SHALL HAVE NO
    12     DUTY TO PROTECT RIDERS FROM COMMON, FREQUENT, EXPECTED AND
    13     NONNEGLIGENT RISKS INHERENT TO THE ACTIVITY, INCLUDING
    14     COLLISIONS WITH RIDERS OR OBJECTS.
    15         (2)  THE DOCTRINE OF KNOWING VOLUNTARY ASSUMPTION OF RISK
    16     SHALL APPLY TO ALL ACTIONS TO RECOVER DAMAGES FOR NEGLIGENCE
    17     RESULTING IN DEATH OR INJURY TO PERSON OR PROPERTY BROUGHT
    18     AGAINST ANY OFF-ROAD VEHICLE RIDING AREA OPERATOR.
    19         (3)  NOTHING IN THIS SUBSECTION SHALL BE CONSTRUED IN ANY
    20     WAY TO ABOLISH OR MODIFY A CAUSE OF ACTION AGAINST A
    21     POTENTIALLY RESPONSIBLE PARTY OTHER THAN AN OFF-ROAD VEHICLE
    22     RIDING AREA OPERATOR.
    23     (C)  DOWNHILL SKIING.--
    24         (1)  THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY FINDS THAT THE SPORT OF
    25     DOWNHILL SKIING IS PRACTICED BY A LARGE NUMBER OF CITIZENS OF
    26     THIS COMMONWEALTH AND ALSO ATTRACTS TO THIS COMMONWEALTH
    27     LARGE NUMBERS OF NONRESIDENTS SIGNIFICANTLY CONTRIBUTING TO
    28     THE ECONOMY OF THIS COMMONWEALTH. IT IS RECOGNIZED THAT AS IN
    29     SOME OTHER SPORTS, THERE ARE INHERENT RISKS IN THE SPORT OF
    30     DOWNHILL SKIING.
     1         (2)  THE DOCTRINE OF VOLUNTARY ASSUMPTION OF RISK AS IT
     2     APPLIES TO DOWNHILL SKIING INJURIES AND DAMAGES IS NOT
     3     MODIFIED BY SUBSECTIONS (A) AND [(B)] (A.1)

http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/tortsprof/2006/03/joint_several_l.html

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