Peace River Regional Medical Center v. Iala Suarez, 2D15-3434 (Fla. 2d DCA)(October 26, 2016) decided an important legal issue in Florida torts that has been lingering since 2005. In the good old days of litigation, the concept of joint and several liability was alive and well. This meant that all a plaintiff needed to do was hit a defendant with a deep pocket with at least 1% of liability and then they could collect their entire judgment from the defendant with the deep pocket.
Joint Tortfeasors Were on the Hook for the Whole Judgment
One of the issues that sprang out of this way of doing things was that defendants who settled early sometimes got off easy because there was a defendant with a deep pocket who wanted to go to trial. As a result, a plaintiff would strike a deal with one defendant knowing that they could hit the defendant with the deep pocket for the whole amount at trial. In the case of D’Angelo v. Fitzmaurice, 863 So. 2d 311 (Fla. 2003), the Florida Supreme Court gave a credit (or setoff) to the non-settling defendants for what the settling defendants had paid.
Joint and Several Liability Abolished in 2005
Other issues aside, the Florida Legislature took this away in 2005 by amending the comparative fault statute (section 768.81, Fla. Stat.) so that defendants only have to pay the share of the total damages that was assigned by the jury. In other words, if the jury said that there was $100,000 in damages and that defendant A was 25% at fault while defendant B was 75% at fault, then defendant A only had to pay $25,000.
2016 Finally Puts the Issue to Rest
Despite the abolition of joint and several liability described above, civil defendants have consistently asked for a credit or setoff for anything received from another defendant. Peace River v. Suarez should finally resolve that issue. It stands to reason that if you only have to pay your “fair” share from a civil judgment anyway, then you shouldn’t be able to use anything as a credit or setoff against it because it is your “fair” share anyway.
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