N.H. Senate Kills Fault Appointment Bill

April 6, 2005

The New Hampshire Senate’s decision to kill a trial lawyer-supported bill that would have required well-insured defendants with little liability to pay the lion’s share of legal judgments is a victory for proponents of judicial fairness, according to the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America (PCI).

The Senate killed S.B. 47 on an 18-6 vote — a surprising move since Senate Majority Leader Sen. Robert Clegg Jr. (R, Dist. 14) had sponsored the bill and voted for it in the Senate Judiciary Committee, which had passed the bill on a 4-2 vote, according to Frank O’Brien, PCI regional manager. “The Senate’s overwhelming rejection of S.B. 47 proves legislators recognized that it was simply a bad bill that penalized responsible individuals and only benefited trial attorneys,” O’Brien said.

S.B. 47 would have changed New Hampshire’s civil action fault apportionment system by removing as a “party” any named defendant who had settled before trial. The bill was reportedly an effort by the New Hampshire Trial Lawyer Association to reverse a recent New Hampshire Supreme Court decision clarifying the nature of “party” or “parties” to a lawsuit for application of New Hampshire’s statutory system of joint and several liability and the right of contribution.

If passed, the bill would have eliminated defendants for consideration if they had settled their claim before trial. As a result, parties with large insurance policy limits and little liability would reportedly run the risk of a large judgment without any “parties” to share the burden under the joint and several liability determinations and any right of contribution from a joint wrongdoer, according to O’Brien. “The New Hampshire Senate prevented a grave consumer injustice by choosing to kill this bill,” he said.

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