Securing Compensation in a Personal Injury Lawsuit Against Multiple Defendants

March 28, 2018

Popular media has created a perception of civil litigation as a one-on-one game, of sorts, in which you aggressively and exclusively pursue a single defendant.  This does not reflect the reality of litigation, however.  In many personal injury cases, there is more than one defendant who is responsible for your injuries (and who is therefore liable for damages).

Suppose that you are injured in a motor vehicle collision.  Upon first impression, you may believe that the defendant-driver is the “lone defendant,” and is solely responsible for your injuries.  After the case has been more thoroughly investigated, however, you may discover that your own car was defectively designed and therefore contributed substantially to your injuries.  You would be entitled to sue both the manufacturer and the driver for damages.

Multiple defendants necessarily complicate a lawsuit, but it’s worth noting that suing multiple defendants can be advantageous, too — not every defendant has sufficient assets or liability insurance coverage to pay your damages in full.  By introducing additional parties into the lawsuit, you might gain access to defendants who have the means to pay your damages, at least partially.

Pennsylvania law on shared liability (and compensation) between defendants has changed dramatically in recent years.  If you’re bringing a lawsuit against multiple defendants in Pennsylvania, it’s important to have a basic understanding of the rules and how it may affect your recovery.

The Old Compensation Rules in Pennsylvania

In the past, Pennsylvania implemented pure “joint and several liability,” which heavily favored injured plaintiffs.  Joint and several liability makes each defendant — no matter how small their contribution of fault — liable in full for the plaintiff’s various losses.

For example, suppose that you have been injured in a motor vehicle accident where two defendants contributed to your injuries.  Your damages in total are equivalent to $1 million.  Defendant #1 is 10 percent liable, and defendant #2 is 90 percent liable.  Joint and several liability rules would entitle you to sue and recover your full damages ($1 million) from Defendant #1, even though they are only 10 percent liable ($100,000).

Joint and several liability shifts the cost burden over to the defendants, saving the plaintiff a lot of trouble — it’s particularly useful in cases where a defendant is mostly responsible for your injuries, but does not have adequate insurance coverage.  You can recover your full damages from a defendant who does have adequate insurance coverage.

Pennsylvania Law and the Fair Share Act

In 2011, Pennsylvania enacted the Fair Share Act, which changed the rules for cost-sharing and damage recovery between multiple defendants.  Specifically, the Fair Share Act implemented a modified form of “joint and several liability.”  These new rules have made it somewhat more difficult for plaintiffs to recover their full damages in cases with multiple defendants.

How does it work?

Thanks to the Fair Share Act, joint and several liability in Pennsylvania is applied in a manner that limits the ability of the injured plaintiff to recover their damages in full from defendants who are only partially at-fault.  These modified joint and several liability rules only allow a plaintiff to recover their damages in full from defendants who are at least 60 percent responsible.  Any defendant who is less than 60 percent responsible can only be held liable for their actual share of the total damages.

Confusing?  Let’s clarify with a quick example.

Suppose that you are injured in an accident involving two defendants, and your total damages are $1 million.  Defendant #1 is 30 percent liable, and defendant #2 is 70 percent liable for your injuries.  Under the new Fair Share Act rules, you would be entitled to sue and recover the full $1 million from defendant #2.  You would only be entitled to recover $300,000 (30 percent) from defendant #1, however, as they are less than 60 percent liable.

Contact an Easton Personal Injury Lawyer for a Free Evaluation of Your Claims

Here at Drake Hileman & Davis, PC, we have represented injured plaintiffs in Pennsylvania for over three decades.  We are committed to client-oriented advocacy — we believe that every case is unique and deserves thorough, well-considered legal representation.  This approach has brought us a great deal of success over the years, and we have secured numerous multimillion dollar verdicts and settlements in a range of personal injury litigation, including claims that involve multiple defendants.

Call us at (888) 777-7098 to get connected to an experienced Easton personal injury lawyer for a free evaluation of your injury claims.