Attorneys who do not practice specifically in the personal injury field have asked that I provide a paragraph which gives a hypothetical situation in which the new limitations on joint liability would apply to a person injured in a car accident.
Crash facts could be: One driver stops at a stop sign, then attempts to cross an intersection and beat an oncoming vehicle. We’ll call this driver Feasor1. Feasor1 doesn’t make it, the other driver isn’t paying attention, doesn’t avoid the vehicle in his way, and hits Feasor1’s rear passenger quarter panel losing control of his vehicle. We’ll call this driver who did not stop within the assured clear distance ahead, Feasor2. When Feasor2 lost control, he crossed the double yellow lines, drove into the oncoming lane of travel into opposing traffic. He hits Bob head on who is headed home from work. Bob fractures both of his lower legs, and requires pins and screws to put both of his legs back together. At trial, Bob is found by the jury to deserve compensation in the amount of $100,000 (round number, not actual value). The jury decides Feasor1 was 75% at fault, and Feasor2 was only 25% at fault. Feasor1, had $15,000 -Pennsylvania’s minimum limit – of insurance coverage. Feasor 2 had $300,000 of coverage. Bob will only recover $40,000, less than half of his damages.
Under the now gone system of joint and several liability, Bob could have recovered $100,000. Feasor2 would have been responsible for the full $100,000 and could have recouped $15,000 back from Feasor1. The wrongdoers would have split up the full responsibility for the injury they came together to cause Bob.
Under the current law, Feasor2 was less than 60% liable, and therefore must only pay their percentage of fault, or 25% of $100,000: $25,000. Though Feasor1 was 75% responsible, and should have been made to pay $75,000, his insurance company can only pay out its limit of $15,000. $25,000 plus $15,000 is $40,000 paid to Bob, whom a jury said deserved $100,000. Our system just cheapened Bob’s suffering by $60,000.
Moral of the story, make sure you have good underinsured motorists bodily injury limits. If Bob had purchased $100,000 of Underinsured motorist coverage, it would fill in the gap of $60,000 and he would be compensated for his damages. Protect yourself Pennsylvania. For more examples, see the powerpoint which Scott Cooper put together to illustrate specific points about Pennsylvania’s new law.