Pennsylvania Congress Considers Reform of Comparative Negligence Law

The Pennsylvania House of Representatives has passed a Bill to amend Pennsylvania law relating to comparative damages. The law as it stands today holds joint tortfeasors liable for an equal share of a verdict returned in plaintiff’s favor. The Bill that has passed the Pennsylvania House proposes that joint tortfeasors be liable only for a share of the verdict that equals the proportion of plaintiff’s damages that are deemed to have been caused by that defendant. This rule would apply to negligence and strict liability causes of action. However, if a defendant is found to be liable for more than 60% of the plaintiff’s damages, that defendant will be liable to pay the entire verdict with the right to seek contribution from the other liable defendants. In addition, the Bill would allow the remaining defendants at trial to present evidence against “any defendant or other person who has entered into a release with the plaintiff with respect to the action and who is not a party.” This language presents an opportunity for defendants to argue that plaintiff’s bankruptcy trust filings should be submitted to the jury for apportionment purposes at the time of trial. The question also exists regarding whether this language would include parties that resolved a prior case filed by the plaintiff, but are now bankrupt.