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Coney v. J.L.G. Industries, Inc

    Brief Fact Summary. A wrongful death action based on strict products liability was brought against the Defendant, J.L.G. Industries (Defendant). Defendant claims that the deceased committed contributory negligence, the deceased’s employer was also negligent and that the adoption of comparative negligence should eliminate joint and several liability.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. Joint and several liability is still applicable when contributory negligence is replaced by comparative negligence.

    Facts. A wrongful death action was brought by the Plaintiff, Coney on behalf of Clifford Jasper (Plaintiff). Jasper died operating a hydraulic aerial work platform manufactured by the Defendant. The action was based on strict products liability. Defendant argued that Jasper had committed contributory negligence and that his employer had also contributed to Plaintiff’s injuries through negligence.

    Issue. Does the doctrine of comparative negligence or fault eliminate joint and several liability?

    Held. No. Judgment affirmed and remanded with directions.
    * Joint and several liability holds each tortfeasor responsible for the Plaintiff’s entire injury. Defendant argues that joint and several liability was a corollary to contributory negligence and is no longer necessary with the adoption of comparative negligence.
    * Most jurisdictions have retained joint and several liability with the adoption of comparative negligence. There are several reasons for this approach. The ability to apportion fault on a comparable basis does not cause an indivisible injury to become divisible. When a plaintiff is not guilty of any negligence, he would be forced to bear a portion of the loss if one of the tortfeasors is unable to pay his share of damages. When a plaintiff is partially negligent, his negligence relates only to a lack of due care for his own safety in comparison to the defendant’s lack of due care for the safety of others. Only the defendant’s action is tortuous. Finally, elimination of joint and several liability would have a deleterious effect on the ability of a plaintiff to obtain adequate compensation. Based on these observations, the Court concludes that comparative fault does not eliminate joint and several liability.

    Discussion. Joint and several liability allows a plaintiff to pursue all, some, or only one of his tortfeasors for the full amount of damages. Contributory negligence bans recovery for a plaintiff if he is at all at fault for the injuries he sustains, while comparative negligence only reduces the plaintiff’s recovery by his own percentage of negligence.


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