Many times in civil cases, Plaintiffs sue several Defendants because it was a collective negligent team effort (if you want to call it an effort..) that resulted in Plaintiff getting hurt.
Well, what happens when you settle with some Defendants, but other Defendants fight you through a trial? And, if you’re successful proving Defendants’ negligence that caused you harm? Does just one Defendant get assigned the verdict the Jurors may award? Or do all original Defendants share in the verdict? That’s exactly the question with the California case Plascencia v. Deese, filed January 20, 2021.
What happened here?
I’ll boil it down: Plaintiff was in a car wreck caused by the negligence of several Defendants. Plaintiff unfortunately died as a result of the crash and her family brought this lawsuit. Throughout litigation, several Defendants settled with Plaintiff. All but one, so off to trial they went.
The Jurors found Defendant liable. But the problem: the Trial Judge did not allow the Jurors to consider comparative fault of the other Defendants. With that, the Jurors slapped the sole Defendant with $30 million in damages (non-economic damages).
So, is that one Defendant on the hook for the whole 30 mil?
The Court here says no. In California, cases like this are governed by Proposition 51 which sought to stop the unfairness of sticking one Defendant with a trial verdict when other Defendants were at fault too. With fault in California, we use a percentage-based method: “A defendant is liable only for the percentage of noneconomic damages that corresponds to his or her proportionate fault.” See California Civil Code § 1431.2(a), (b)(2).
Basically, the rule of law here is: “the jury must apportion the fault of each tortfeasor, including defendants who settle before trial.”
The Court here reverses the $30 mil verdict and sends it back for “a new trial limited to determining the amount of the damages award and its apportionment among all defendants, including those who settled before trial.”
One more point:
Attorneys for the Plaintiff violated the Golden Rule during closing.
What say you? What is this Golden Rule?
Basically, the Golden Rule is directly putting the Jurors in the position as if each Juror was the actual Plaintiff in the case. Here’s some language from this case about it: “”The law, like boxing, prohibits hitting below the belt. The basic rule forbids an attorney to pander to the prejudice, passion or sympathy of the jury.”
Here, in closing arguments the Plaintiff attorney “asked the jurors to ‘[j]ust imagine that is your daughter,” and to image “that constant love and connection between you and your daughter,” and that “your daughter is taken away.’” That part, of using the term “YOUR daughter” and “YOU and YOUR daughter”: you can’t do that as the Court says so here.