Pa. State Senators Reintroduce Lawsuit Reform Measure: ‘Joint and Several Liability’ Legal Doctrine

March 24, 2004

Pennsylvania State Senators Hal Mowery (R-31) and Jeff Piccola (R-15) reacted on Wednesday to recent challenges in the courts by introducing for the second time a major lawsuit reform measure that replaces “joint and several liability” with “proportional liability.”

Senate Bill 1078 represents a bipartisan effort of 29 cosponsors and builds upon the Senate’s recent passage of the Constitutional amendment to permit caps on non-economic damages.

“We are concerned about the procedural question in the courts, which could jeopardize the most significant lawsuit abuse reform of the last 30 years. They’re questioning the procedure, not the merits,” said Mowery.

“Based on the litigation that is pending before the courts, we need to be sure that the substance of the legislation is carried to fruition even if the courts have problems with how the original law was passed in 2002. We need to maintain the reforms that we previously adopted,” added Piccola.

Under joint and several liability, anyone found even 1, 5 or 10 percent liable in a civil suit can be held 100 percent financially responsible, the legislators said. Thus, a plaintiff may recover the full amount of an award from any defendant. The reported result is that litigants often go after people with “deep pockets,” putting Pennsylvania at a disadvantage – especially when the state is trying to attract, create, and retain jobs. If the legislation by Mowery and Piccola is approved, defendants found to be at fault would continue to be held liable for their proportionate share of damages only.

“This legislation is about supporting economic development and preserving our tax base,” said Mowery. “It’s about enhancing Pennsylvania’s ability to create and maintain jobs. It’s about providing our constituents with opportunity and security. And it’s about fairness.”

“Joint and several liability is a job killer in Pennsylvania,” continued Piccola. “This legislation was long overdue and will ensure fairness, common sense, and personal responsibility within our civil justice system.”

Among the reportedly hardest hit by joint and several liability are health care facilities.

“Hospitals may be named in a suit simply because they have insurance coverage,” added Piccola. “In the current climate, premiums continue to escalate while the number of insurers decreases.”

“Five commercial carriers that insured more than half of the hospitals and health systems in Pennsylvania have left the market in 2002. Hospitals continue to struggle to find other carriers and this has devastating consequences,” added Mowery.

The unfairness of joint and several liability was highlighted when Crown Cork & Seal, a major employer in Pennsylvania, was saddled with asbestos liability because of a company it acquired for less than 90 days. Although Crown Cork & Seal reportedly never manufactured or produced asbestos, the company faced more than $700 million in payouts.

“The legislature needs to provide relief from the archaic doctrine of joint and several liability. We need to protect Pennsylvania employers – hospitals and other job creators. We need to avoid the fear and uncertainty that it may be overturned like the Crown Cork & Seal legislation. This will help to end decades of lawsuit abuse in Pennsylvania, which is good news for everyone,” added Mowery.

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