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Brown v. Keill

    Brief Fact Summary.

    Brown (plaintiff) sued Keill (defendant) for damages arising out of a car accident.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law.

    A comparative fault statute may supersede the common law rule of joint and several liability.

    Facts.

    The plaintiff loaned his car to his son and while the son was driving he got into an accident with the defendant. The plaintiff sued the defendant for over $5,000 in damages stemming from the accident. The trial court ruled that the defendant’s son was 90 % responsible for the accident, and awarded him 10 % of the cost of repair. The defendant argued the son and defendant were jointly and severally liable for the accident.

    Issue.

    Whether a comparative fault statute may supersede the common law rule of joint and several liability.

    Held.

    Yes. A comparative fault statute may supersede the common law rule of joint and several liability.

    Concurrence.

    None

    Discussion.

    Under the doctrine of joint and several liability, when a plaintiff has been harmed by multiple tortfeasors, they may seek full recovery of damages from either of the tortfeasors, regardless of the percentage of fault each tortfeasor is responsible for. This is precisely the reason for the proliferation of comparative fault statute. Under joint and several liability, even if a tortfeasor was only responsible for 10 % of the fault, they would be on the hook for 100 % of the damages. Under the comparative negligence rule, each tortfeasor is only liable for their proportion of fault. Traditionally, under the theory of contributory negligence, a plaintiff who was at all responsible for the injuries was complete barred from recovery. This is also another reason for the proliferation of comparative negligence statutes. Under comparative negligence, a plaintiff may still have responsibility for their damages can still recover for the proportion of the damages they were not responsible for. Comparative negligence statutes and joint and several liability cannot co-exist because if the plaintiff were required to pay all the defendant’s damages even if they were only 10 % at fault, it would render the comparative fault statute a nullity.


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