Legislation pending before both houses, known by its proponents as the “Fair Share Act” but more accurately described as the “Wrongdoer Protection Law” would eliminate joint and several liability, a centuries old legal concept. The idea behind “Joint and Several Liability ” is simple. When two or more Pennsylvania wrongdoers combine to hurt someone each is responsible for fixing the harm caused. They each have to pay their fair share but if one doesn’t have enough money to fix the harm then the other has to make it right with the injured person.
The Joint and Several Liability Scenario
Consider this scenario. Your daughter is out on a date with a young man. He’s taking her home on Greengarden and approaching 12th Street. Coming down 12th Street is a drunk going 75 mph, well over the posted speed limit. The young man driving your daughter goes through a red light and into the path of the drunk on 12th Street who’s going too fast and who is too drunk to stop or avoid the Erie car accident. Your daughter is badly injured and has $100,000 in medical bills. Each driver is 50% responsible: your daughter’s date for not paying attention and going through the red light, the drunk for speeding and driving while intoxicated.
Your daughter’s date has only the minimum insurance ($15,000) but the drunk has $100,000 in insurance coverage. Under joint and several liability, your daughter will get all of her medical bills paid. The insurance company for your daughter’s date will pay $15,000 and the insurance company for the drunk will pay $85,000. The drunk and his insurance company can, if they choose, try to recover the extra $35,000 they paid from your daughter’s date.
Your Daughter Gets Stuck With the Bill if Joint and Several Liability Is Abolished
If joint and several liability is abolished, however, the situation changes. If there is no joint and several liability then your daughter’s date (and his insurance company) pay the $15,000 he has in insurance coverage. The drunk only has to pay 50% so, even though he has plenty of insurance, he only has to pay $50,000. Who pays the extra $35,000 in medical bills? Your daughter does. Or you do. Or Medicare or some other benefit plan. Or the bills don’t get paid, in which case the doctors and the hospital absorb the loss and pass it on to other patients, thereby increasing health care costs.
Why Does the Pennsylvania Legislature Want to Hurt Your Daughter and Make Health Care More Expensive?
If you follow the money trail, it is clear that there are only two groups of people who benefit from the abolition of joint and several liability: wrongdoers and insurance companies. Who are the people routinely causing harm? Well, large corporations are the repeat offenders here. Merc k, for example, knew its drug Vioxx was causing heart attacks and death but denied it for years before litigation threats forced it to pull the drug from market. Tobacco executives lied , under oath and to Congress, about the addictive qualities of their product. Locally, Unicredit abused citizens with a fake courtroom, a fake judge and fake deputies. Yup, the repeat players with the swing to make new law are the corporations.
Insurance companies, of course, are a special class of corporation in that they openly acknowledge a mission to deprive injured people of compensation. Any law that protects wrongdoers from paying for the harm they cause is a law the insurance industry will gladly embrace (and profit from).
I don’t know why some of the extreme elements currently in control in Pennsylvania want to help harmful corporations and insurance companies. I do know that people with significant corporate interests have been disproportionately responsible for funding many of the recent political campaigns. Whether that connection exists as a quid pro quo or because the contributors and Gov. Corbett are just like-minded is something that only they can know.
Harder to explain is what these Pennsylvania politicians have against your daughter or any of the other Pennsylvanians who are injured as a result of someone else’s wrongdoing. It seems unlikely that the current crop of politicians is motivated by a desire to hurt injured people. However, there is a strong sentiment popular among many politicos today that lawyers need to be restrained and limited. Perhaps the animus is not directed at injured people but at the lawyers who represent them. What a shame. At the end of the day, the abolition of joint and several liability will have very limited impact on today’s successful lawyers. It will, however, undoubtedly hurt many innocent injured people.
Regardless of the real motives of these Pennsylvania politicos and their big business buddies, the net effects of the abolition of joint and several liability include relieving wrongdoers and injurious corporations of responsibility; helping insurance companies avoid paying benefits they promised to pay; and foisting the cost of injury upon the innocent injured, their families and the health care system.
Do Something to Help Yourself, Protect Your Rights and Help Health Care
Call your local legislator today. Tell them that you oppose the abolition of joint and several liability. Tell them you oppose the “Fair Share Act.” You should contact the following Erie area legislators:
Hon. John R. Evans
123 Meadville Street
Edinboro, PA 16412
Fax: (814) 734-4534
Hon. Curtis G. Sonney
4457 Buffalo Road
Erie, PA 16510
Fax: (814) 897-2083
Hon. Jane Earll
200 West Eleventh Street
Erie, PA 16501
Hon. Mary Jo White
464 Allegheny Boulevard
Franklin, PA 16323