Sunday, February 3, 2013

Sitzes v. Anchor Motor Freight, Inc. case brief

Sitzes v. Anchor Motor Freight, Inc. case summary
289 S.E.2d 679 (W. Va. 1982)
Tort Law

The following questions were certified by the United States District Court in West Virginia:
(1) whether the abolition of the interspousal immunity doctrine was to be applied retroactively, and (2) what the effect the adoption of comparative negligence had upon both the rules of contribution among joint tortfeasors as well as a jury's distribution of the damage award under the West Virginia wrongful death statute.

Plaintiff estate administrators of wife killed in a vehicle accident brought action against defendant employer of other driver. Defendant filed a third-party complaint for contribution against decedent's husband, the driver of the truck in which his wife was riding. The court instructed the jury to assign percentages of fault to the third-party plaintiff and third-party defendant if it found that both were negligent.

The jury found that the accident was caused by the combined negligence of the defendant and the third-party defendant.
Damages should be distributed as follows: 25% to husband and 75% to the decedent's son.

The court ruled that the abolition of interspousal immunity was to be applied retroactively.
This is because torts was not a traditionally settled area, there was a recognized trend to limit or abolish common law immunities, and the impact of retroactive application was not substantial in that it would affect only a comparatively small number of cases.
The court further held that there was no right of judgment set-off where the parties obtained counter judgments against each other and both of the parties had full coverage liability insurance.

A plaintiff may elect to sue any or all of those responsible for his injuries and collect his damages from whoever is able to pay, irrespective of their percentage of fault. The modified rule for contributory negligence does not change the adherence to joint and several liability. The plaintiff can sue one or more joint tortfeasors, and if more than one is sued and a joint judgment is obtained, he may collect the entire amount from any one of the defendants. The concept of joint and several liability after judgment relates primarily to the liability of all of the joint tortfeasors to the plaintiff.
-The basic purpose of the joint and several liability rule is to permit the injured plaintiff to select and collect the full amount of his damages against one or more joint tortfeasors. This rule however need not preclude a right of comparative contribution between the joint tortfeasors inter se. The purpose of this latter rule is to require the joint tortfeasors to share in contribution based upon the degree of fault that each has contributed to the accident. There is a definite trend in tort law toward allocation of judgmental liability between the joint tortfeasors inter se. It is thought to be fairer to require them to respond in damages based on their degrees of fault.

CONCLUSION: The court answered the first certified question negatively, having concluded that the decision to abolish the common law rule of interspousal immunity should have be applied retroactively.
As to the second question, the court refused to alter its rule that permitted joint and several liability as against joint tortfeasors after judgment.


TOPICS: joint tortfeasors, comparative, immunity, set-off, comparative negligence, contributory negligence, retroactivity, fault, common law rule, joint tortfeasors, right of contribution, degree of fault, inter se, joint and several liability, present case, interspousal, comparative fault, pro tanto, retroactively, equitable, certified questions, wrongful death, common law, percentage of fault, insurance carriers, overruling decision, tortfeasor, modified, coverage, spouse

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