The Pennsylvania Fair Share Act, enacted in 2011, regulates the apportionment of jury verdict awards for liable parties. The Fair Share Act mandates that all defendants are responsible for the share of liability apportioned to them, with the exception that a defendant could be liable for the entire award if found more than 60% liable. In plain English, any defendant with 60% or less allocated liability in a case involving the Fair Share Act is only responsible for its own culpability and cannot be made to satisfy the entire judgement if a portion of the judgment is, for whatever reason, not collectable.
The Fair Share Act unquestionably includes negligence verdict awards but the Pennsylvania Supreme Court and Pennsylvania Appellate Courts , until recently, had yet to weigh in regarding the applicability of the Fair Share Act for strict liability cases sounding in tort actions.
In Roverano v. John Crane Inc, the Superior Court of Pennsylvania dealt with the Fair Share Act within the context of a strict liability asbestos action where plaintiff claimed he sustained lung cancer as a result of exposure to asbestos. The trial court had decided that the jury could not apportion liability because the case involved strict liability for asbestos exposure.
The Superior Court held that the applicable statute alluded to strict liability for tort cases and only excluded four categories of strict liability actions, implicitly including the balance of strict liability cases sounding in tort. Further, the Court held that strict liability allocation amongst joint tortfeasors was required by the Fair Share Act to be identical to the allocation method for negligent joint tortfeasors. The Court held that was mandated per the legislative intent underlying the enactment of the Fair Share Act. Additionally, the Court held that the clause in the applicable statute “including actions for strict liability” is revealing. Finally, the Court found legislative history instructive as older versions of the bill included “causal negligence” but were replaced in the enacted statute with “liability”, thus allowing an inference of greater inclusion of possible actions.
The Superior Court’s decision means that a “fact-finder [should allocate] liability among joint tortfeasors in all types of cases, including strict liability cases”. The Court specifically declined to weigh in how exactly to allocate liability, but that the liability allocation should not be done on a per capita basis, Revealingly, the Superior Court did note that the jury should consider evidence of any previous settlements with released defendants as part of its liability determination.
Thanks to Matt Care for his contribution to this post and please write to Mike Bono for more information.