778 P.2d 443 (N.M. Ct. App. 1989)
PROCEDURAL HISTORY: Defendant owners appealed a judgment from a trial court (New Mexico), which found that they had engaged in a joint venture as to the control and maintenance of their two horses, and held them jointly and severally liable to plaintiff complainant for the damages awarded predicated on the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur as well as negligent violation of the applicable statutes.
- The complainant filed a lawsuit to recover damages for personal injuries sustained when the car he was driving struck the owners' two horses.
-The trial court found that the owners had engaged in a joint venture as to the control and maintenance of the horses and held them jointly and severally liable.
-On appeal, the court affirmed the trial court's judgment as to liability and damages, except for the finding of a joint venture and the conclusion as to joint and several liability based thereon.
-The court held that substantial evidence supported liability against both of the owners for negligence per se. However, there was insufficient evidence to support the trial court's finding of a joint venture.
Because it could not be determined which owner was more at fault, the burden was on the owners, not the complainant, to prove apportionment. The court affirmed the trial court's finding that the owners' violation of the statutes and ordinance constituted negligence for which they were liable. The court agreed that the trial court had to apportion fault and remanded for that purpose.
-Where the tortious conduct of two or more actors has combined to bring about harm to the plaintiff, and one or more of the actors seeks to limit his liability on the ground that the harm is capable of apportionment among them, the burden of proof as to the apportionment is upon each such actor. -Where the conduct of two or more actors is tortious, and it is proved that harm has been caused to the plaintiff by only one of them, but there is uncertainty as to which one has caused it, the burden is upon each such actor to prove that he has not caused the harm.
-The purpose of these sections, which provide an exception to the general rule that a plaintiff bears the burden of proving that a wrongdoer has caused his or her harm.
-The reason for the exceptions is the injustice of permitting proved wrongdoers, who among them have inflicted an injury upon the entirely innocent plaintiff, to escape liability merely because the nature of their conduct and the resulting harm has made it difficult or impossible to prove which of them has caused the harm.
CONCLUSION: The court affirmed the trial court's judgment as to liability and damages, except for the finding of a joint venture and the conclusion as to joint and several liability based thereon in the complainant's action for damages arising from the owners' maintenance of their two horses. The court remanded solely for the purpose of apportioning fault between the two owners.
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