This afternoon Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett signed into law the “Fair Share Act,” Senate Bill 1131, which drastically modifies joint and several liability law in Pennsylvania. Under this new law, if a judge or jury finds a civil defendant less than 60 percent at fault, that defendant would not have to pay more than his or her “fair share” of the damages the fact finder awarded, subject to certain exceptions. Defendants found liable for certain claims, such as intentional torts, would be subject to additional exposure. The Fair Share Act will apply to cases that accrue on or after the effective date of the law.
Under the prior joint and several liability law, 42 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 7102(b), each defendant was potentially liable for 100 percent of the damages the fact finder awarded. If a case included multiple defendants, some of whom were judgment proof or could not pay their fair share of the damages award, the plaintiff could collect all or part of the judgment from any joint tortfeasor who had the means to pay and was found at least 1 percent liable. Businesses and insurers complained that the prior law was unfair to defendants because those with the “deepest pockets,” even when found only minimally liable, would often have to pay all or most of a judgment. The new law dramatically changes the legal landscape in Pennsylvania, as a plaintiff will no longer be able to collect all of his or her judgment from the defendant with the “deepest pocket,” if that defendant is less than 60 percent at fault.