Pennsylvania Joint and Several Liability
In 2011, Pennsylvania significantly changed the law of Joint and Several Liability. Prior to this change if an injured party brought a claim against more than one defendant each defendant would be potentially responsible for the entire amount of any jury verdict even if the comparative responsibility of that defendant was only 1%.
Traditionally, when two or more parties were jointly and severally liable for a tortious act, each party was independently liable for the full extent of the injuries stemming from the tortious act no matter their proportion of liability. Thus, any defendant could be responsible for satisfying the entire judgment.
However, in 2011, Senate Bill 1131, the “Fair Share Act,” was enacted in Pennsylvania to substantially limit the application of joint and several liability in civil cases. Pursuant to the Act, individual defendants are generally only responsible for their proportionate share of a judgment. The most prominent exception to the Act is that a tortfeasor found 60 percent or more liable could be responsible for satisfying the entire damage award.
Under the new Joint and Several Liability law that took effect in 2011, a party defendant is only responsible for their proportionate share of the verdict as determined by a jury. If the jury determines that a party is 60% or more responsible for the accident then that party will be responsible for the entire verdict as they would have been under the prior law. There are other exceptions to the law.
Yet, implications of the Fair Share Act by various court opinions seems to indicate that courts may revert to traditional joint and several liability, allowing for a non-negligent plaintiff to recover a judgment against any defendants that are jointly and severally liable regardless of their percentage of liability assessed by the jury. A return to joint and several liability principles would once again expose the “deep-pocket” defendants to substantially greater liability in cases such as medical malpractice matters where a plaintiff is not typically found comparatively negligent.