Newly elected Governor Tom Corbett is advocating a change in Pennsylvania law as applies to cases in which more than one person or entity may be responsible for someone s accident and injuries. The Pennsylvania House of Representatives, with a Republican majority, has offered its support for Corbett s agenda. On Monday, April 11, 2011, the House, by a vote of 112-88, passed House Bill 1, taking the first step to make drastic changes in what is known as the law on Joint and Several Liability.
Presently the law in Pennsylvania allows for the sharing of legal responsibility among multiple responsible parties in a manner which permits injury victims to, more often than not, recover the full amount of damages to which they are entitled. The proposed change in the law will greatly reduce this potential. This change will have a detrimental effect not only upon accident victims, but also upon the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Medicare and others.
As the law presently exists, an injured party is entitled to recover the entire amount of his or her damages from any party deemed to be responsible for causing harm. For example, if a person is injured as a result of the negligent conduct of 2 people and a jury determines one person to be 10% responsible and the other party 90% at fault, the injured party can recover the entire amount of his or her damages from either party. This is important because often times negligent parties do not have sufficient insurance or assets to fully compensate an injury victim. This is especially true in motor vehicle accidents, as more and more people fail to carry insurance in excess of the required minimum of $15,000.
Under the proposed new law, an injury victim will only be entitled to recover the actual percentage attributed to a negligent party. This is true unless one party is determined to be at least 60% responsible. Governor Corbett is calling this amendment the Fair Share Law. He believes that it will be beneficial to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania because it will attract business to our state. A closer look shows otherwise.
Consider the example cited above where one party is 10% responsible while the other is 90% responsible. Put this into the context of a verdict of $500,000. Imagine if the 10% responsible party is a trucking company with $1 million dollars in insurance. The party determined to be 90% at fault is a driver with the minimum coverage of $15,000. Under our present law, the injured party will recover his entire verdict. Under the new law, his $500,000 verdict will be worth $65,000 ($15,000 from the 90% party and $50,000 from the 10% driver).
As set forth above, this drastic change will not only effect accident victims. Reduced recoveries will mean that less money will available to reimburse entities that make payment for medical bills, such as Medicare, the Department of Public Welfare and various private insurance carriers. This will likely cause an increase in taxes and insurance premiums for all citizens. We will be paying the Fair Share of big business as time marches forward.
This matter is now before the Pennsylvania Senate for consideration. If approved in the Senate, Governor Corbett will undoubtedly sign this new law. In fact, he promised to do so in his inaugural address. If you have concerns about this proposed new law, please consider contacting your local State Senator to express your thoughts.