Joint and several elimination closer in Pa.

Jessica M. Karmasek Apr. 7, 2011, 11:23am


HARRISBURG, Pa. (Legal Newsline) -- It looks as if a bill that does away with the joint and several liability doctrine is closer to being reinstated in Pennsylvania.

House Majority Leader Mike Turzai, R-Allegheny, said on Wednesday that House Bill 1, or the "Fair Share Act," has moved past second consideration in the state House of Representatives. The bill will be taken up for a final vote next week, he said.

The joint and several liability doctrine requires a defendant to pay the share of a verdict that a co-defendant can't afford, no matter what percentage of liability is assessed to both.

It is up to the paying defendant to seek repayment from the non-paying one. If the non-paying one has no assets, the paying defendant gets nothing after footing the bill.

The doctrine is designed to protect plaintiffs, but defendants and tort reform groups are not fans.

The Fair Share Act was originally passed in 2002 and then-Gov. Mark Schweiker signed it into law. It did away with the doctrine, though a defendant that was found at least 60 percent liable was still on the hook for the whole amount if its co-defendants couldn't pay.

However, Democratic Rep. William DeWeese mounted a legal challenge to the way the bill was passed. It was coupled with legislation regarding DNA sampling and in 2006, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled the bill should have been focused on a single subject.

With Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell in office, the bill was never reinstated. He vetoed the legislation in 2006.

Now, former Attorney General Tom Corbett, a Republican, is occupying the Governor's Office, and passing the Fair Share Act was one of his stated priorities during his campaign. And this year, voters gave Republicans a majority in the House.

Turzai, one of the sponsors of the 2002 bill, said the act will put an end to frivolous lawsuits and reduce the cost of doing business in the state.

"This is about jobs," he said in a statement.

"Reasonable lawsuit abuse reform will benefit both large and small businesses, taxpayers, consumers, doctors and health care professionals, not to mention people with legitimate lawsuits."

Such lawsuit abuse reform measures will provide further assurance, he said, that doctors and nurses will remain in the state to provide quality health care.

"Today, the House voted against amendments that would weaken this much-needed reform and moved this legislation one step closer to becoming law," Turzai said Wednesday.

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