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American Motorcycle Associations v. Superior Court

    Brief Fact Summary. Glen Gregos (Plaintiff) was injured at a motorcycle race, which was operated by American Motorcycle Associations.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. A concurrent tortfeasor may seek partial indemnity from another concurrent tortfeasor on a comparative fault basis.

    Facts. Defendant sought leave to file a cross-complaint against Plaintiff’s parents, alleging their negligence and improper supervision of their minor son. Defendant also requested that the judgment be reduced by the amount of the “allocable negligence” of the parents. The trial court denied Defendant’s request. Defendant appealed.

    Issue. May a concurrent tortfeasor seek partial indemnity from another concurrent tortfeasor on a comparative fault basis?

    Held. Yes. Judgment reversed.
    * The simple feasibility of apportioning fault on a comparative negligence basis does not render an indivisible injury “divisible” for purposes of the joint and several liability rule. Defendant is a concurrent tortfeasor and is liable for the whole of an indivisible injury whenever his negligence is a proximate cause of that injury.
    * Defendant has no equitable claim in relation to Plaintiff to be relieved of liability for damage which he has caused simply because some other tortfeasor’s negligence may also have caused the same harm.
    * Abandonment of the joint and several liability rule is not warranted by Defendant’s claim that after Li, a plaintiff is no longer “innocent.” It is true that under Li, a plaintiff may be found negligent. It is also true that there will be cases when Plaintiff will be free from all responsibility. The abandonment of joint and several liability would limit a plaintiff’s possible recovery. If one defendant is indigent, then under joint and several liability, a plaintiff is not required to bear the burden of the loss when there are other joint and several defendants liable for the complete amount of the loss.
    * Plaintiff is partially at fault for his own injury. Plaintiff’s culpability is not equivalent to Defendant’s. When the Plaintiff’s conduct creates only a risk of self-injury, it is not tortious.
    * Contribution is the apportionment of loss between multiple tortfeasors. Indemnity is concerned solely with whether a loss should be entirely shifted from one tortfeasor to another, rather than whether the loss should be shared between the two. The differences between the two are more formalistic than substantive. Both find solace in the equitable indemnity doctrine.
    * The equitable indemnity doctrine states that when two individuals are responsible for a loss, but one is more culpable than the other, it is only fair that the more culpable party should bear a greater share of the loss. Old contributory negligence injected this doctrine with an “all or nothing” effect. Thus, a defendant could seek complete relief from a more culpable co-defendant but could seek nothing from a less or equally culpable one.
    * The court holds that the current equitable indemnity rule is modified to permit a concurrent tortfeasor to obtain partial indemnity from other concurrent tortfeasors on a comparative basis.
    * The court realizes that Section 877 releases a settling tortfeasor only from liability for contribution and not partial indemnity. However, the court finds that from a realistic perspective, the legislative policy dictates that a tortfeasor who has entered into a good faith settlement must also be discharged from any claim for partial or comparative indemnity. A plaintiff’s recovery should be diminished only by the amount that the plaintiff has actually recovered in good faith.
    * Under the common law, a concurrent tortfeasor may seek partial indemnity from another concurrent tortfeasor on a comparative fault basis.

    Dissent. The majority rejects Li in two ways. First, they adopt a joint and several liability theory, holding that each defendant will be responsible for the loss attributable to his co-defendant’s negligence. Under the majorities holding, a co-defendant who is minimally liable, might have to pay a large portion of the damage award if other defendants are indigent. Second, a settlement releases the settling tortfeasor from further liability and non-settling tortfeasors are left with a diminished recovery but only in the amount actually received, not an amount apportioned to fault. The Legislature, not the court is the proper institution to decide the issues presented in this case.

    Discussion. This case changes joint and several liability, in that it is now apportioned to the co-defendant’s fault. Joint and several liability now reflects the change from the “all or nothing” result in contributory negligence to the apportionment of fault in comparative negligence.


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