On May 4, 2023, Montana changed its product liability laws when the Governor signed SB 216, which was effective upon passage and applies to claims that accrue on or after May 4, 2023. Among the changes is the adoption of a sealed container defense and the application of comparative negligence principles in strict liability actions. Montana also adopted a defense based on certain actions not being brought within 10 years. In addition, Montana adopted a rebuttable presumption with respect to a product’s defective condition. A jury must be informed about this rebuttable presumption with respect to certain warnings claims, premarket licensing procedures or claims involving drugs and/or medical devices. The changes to the Montana Code are further described below. Continue reading
On Friday, March 24, 2023, Florida’s governor, Ron DeSantis, signed into law a tort reform bill, HB 837. The bill impacts, among other things, bad faith actions and attorney’s fee awards. Of particular importance to subrogation professionals are provisions impacting comparative fault, the statute of limitations and premises liability with respect to the criminal acts of third persons.
With respect to the statute of limitations, the bill amended Fla. Stat. § 95.11(3) and (4), to reduce the statute of limitations for negligence actions from four (4) years to two (2) years.
As for comparative fault, Fla. Stat. § 768.81 was amended to move Florida from a pure comparative fault jurisdiction for negligence actions to a modified comparative fault jurisdiction. Pursuant to § 768.81(6), as revised, in a negligence action subject to that section, “any party found to be greater than 50 percent at fault for his or her own harm may not recover any damages.” Section 768.81(6), however, does not apply to actions for damages for personal injury or wrongful death arising out of medical negligence.
For all cases filed after May 13, 2022, Georgia has amended its apportionment of fault statute, O.C.G.A. § 51-12-33. The amendment affects subsection (b), which formerly stated that in actions brought against “more than one person for injury to person or property,” the amount of damages awarded, after taking a reduction for the plaintiff’s percentage of fault, shall be apportioned among the person or persons liable according the each person’s percentage of fault. It also eliminated joint liability and the right of contribution. The amended subsection (b) now applies to actions brought “against one or more persons,” thus allowing courts to apply the statute to single-defendant lawsuits. Continue reading
In State Farm Fire & Cas. Co. v. Wangs Alliance Corp., No. 21-cv-10389-AK, 2022 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 26712, the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts (District Court) considered whether a product manufacturer was barred by the Commonwealth’s six-year statute of repose for improvements to real property from joining the installer of the product as a third-party defendant. The court denied the defendant’s motion for leave to file a third-party complaint to join the installer, finding that the installer completed its work more than six years prior to the motion being filed. This case reminds us that Massachusetts’ six-year statute of repose for improvement to real property also bars a defendant’s contribution claims against third parties. Continue reading
Courts across the country have historically taken positions encouraging settlements between civil litigants. Thus, as long as there is good faith involved in the negotiation process, settlements and their effects on other parties are generally upheld. Recently, the United States District Court for the Eastern District of California (District Court) considered whether a settlement between the plaintiff and one of several defendants met the good faith standard, thereby barring claims for contribution and indemnity from the co-defendants. Continue reading
In Gables Construction v. Red Coats, 2019 Md. App. LEXIS 419, Maryland’s Court of Special Appeals considered whether a contractual waiver of subrogation in the prime contract for a construction project barred a third party – a fire watch vendor hired to guard the worksite – from pursuing a contribution claim against the general contractor. The court concluded that the general contractor could not rely on the waiver of subrogation clause to defeat the contribution claim of the vendor, who was not a party to the prime contract. As noted by the court, holding that a waiver of subrogation clause bars the contribution claims of an entity that was not a party to the contract would violate the intent of the Maryland Uniform Contribution Among Tortfeasors Act (UCATA). Continue reading
In Farmers Mut. Ins. Co. of Mason County v. Stove Builder Int’l, 2019 U.S. Dist. Lexis 46993 (E.D. Ky.), the United States District Court for the Northern Division of the Eastern District of Kentucky, by adopting a Magistrate Judge’s report and recommendations, see Farmers Mut. Ins. Co. v. Stove Builder, Int’l, Inc., 2019 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 48103 (E.D. Ky. Feb. 11, 2019), considered whether to allow the defendants to file a third-party complaint against the plaintiff’s insureds-subrogors. Finding that the defendants could not pursue contribution claims against the plaintiff’s insureds-subrogors, the court denied the defendant’s motion to file a third-party complaint. Continue reading
For subrogation professionals, it is important to limit the liability exposure of your insured. In cases where the insurer, as subrogee, is proceeding as the plaintiff, this means limiting any direct claims against the insured – whether for contribution or indemnity – to affirmative defenses as opposed to third-party claims. Limiting direct claims against insureds not only keeps captions clean, but avoids strategic maneuvering by the defense that could negatively impact your case. In Ohio, when a defendant tries to pursue direct claims against the insured for contribution or indemnification, practitioners should, consistent with the analysis set forth in Continental Casualty Company v. Equity Indus. Maple Heights, LLC, 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 54440 (N.D. Ohio, April 10, 2017), argue that defendants can no longer attempt this maneuver and that they are limited to raising affirmative defenses against the plaintiff’s subrogor.
When an insurer, as subrogee of its insured, files suit against a defendant to recover its subrogated payments, the defendant, not infrequently, files a third-party complaint against the insured. Typically, the defendant alleges that, if it is liable, then the insured, based on his or her contributory negligence, is liable to the defendant for contribution. Insureds, however, cannot be liable in tort to themselves.
Georgia’s apportionment statute, OCGA § 51-12-33, requires a jury, in some cases, to apportion responsibility for an injury among all those who contributed to it – whether a party to the lawsuit or not – based on each person’s respective share of combined fault. After the apportionment, each defendant’s liability is limited to his or her apportioned percentage. In Zaldivar v. Prickett, — S.E.2d –, 2015 WL 4067788 (Ga. July 6, 2015), the plaintiff, Daniel Prickett (Prickett), sued Imelda Zaldivar (Zaldivar) to recover for injuries that Pricket allegedly sustained in a motor vehicle accident. Zaldivar sought to apportion fault to a non-party, Overhead Door Company, Prickett’s employer, arguing that Overhead Door Company negligently entrusted its vehicle to Prickett. In addition to overruling prior case law precluding, as a matter of law, first-party claims based on negligent entrustment, the court considered whether “fault” can be apportioned to a tortfeasor whose negligence was a proximate cause of the plaintiff’s injury but who is otherwise immune from liability.