Brief Fact Summary. Plaintiffs were passengers in a car driven by Knell, when the car collided with a taxicab owned by Feltman. Plaintiffs sued Feltman, who filed a third-party complaint against Knell for contributory negligence. The court ordered contribution by Knell to Feltman. Knell claims that contribution is not warranted because joint liability was not established.
Synopsis of Rule of Law. As long as concurrent tortfeasors are not intentional wrongdoers, contribution will be enforced regardless of whether or not a joint judgment is entered against them.
Issue. Is a joint judgment against tortfeasors who commit a tort through concurrent negligence a prerequisite for enforcement of contribution?
Held. No. Judgment affirmed.
* Knell’s argument that contribution can only be enforced if both tortfeasors are judgment debtors to the plaintiff fails for two reasons. First, it is at odds with the Rule 14(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (FRCP), which allows a defendant to bring into the action any person who may be liable to him for damages regardless of if the plaintiff seeks judgment against him. Second, it is illogical, as the right to contribution cannot be based upon a selection of defendants by the plaintiff.
* Based on the Merryweather holding [Merryweather v. Nixan, 8 term Rep. 186, 101 Eng.Rep. 1337 (K.B.1799)], a majority of American courts have held that there can be no contribution between joint or concurrent tortfeasors. However, this Court feels that this is a misinterpretation of Merryweather, differentiating between intentional wrongdoers and those whose unpurposed negligence results in a tort. This Court holds that so long as the concurrent tortfeasors are not intentional wrongdoers, contribution will be enforced regardless of whether or not a joint judgment is entered against them.
Discussion. A substantial majority of states now permit contribution among joint tortfeasors, either by statute or judicial decision.