Allocating Liability Among Multiple Responsible Causes: Principles, Rhetoric and Power

Apportionment in Private Law, ch. 2 (K. Barker & R. Grantham eds., Hart, Dec. 2018)

26 Pages Posted: 6 Dec 2018

See all articles by Richard W. Wright

Richard W. Wright

Chicago-Kent College of Law - Illinois Institute of Technology

Date Written: November 30, 2018

Abstract

In Part II of this paper, I discuss the principles underlying just allocation of liability among the multiple responsible causes of an indivisible injury. I argue that those principles support either (1) the standard method adopted by almost all courts, according to which the plaintiff's claim for compensation is reduced by her percentage of comparative responsibility if she was contributorily negligent, those who wrongfully contributed to the plaintiff's injury are each held fully (solidarily) liable for the plaintiff's possibly reduced claim, and the wrongdoers who pay the plaintiff are able to maintain contribution actions against the other wrongdoers based on their comparative responsibility, or (2) a modification of the standard method which would allow the wrongdoers who pay the plaintiff to have a contributorily negligent plaintiff share in bearing the portion of damages that are uncollectible from other wrongdoers. The various proportionate liability rules adopted by the legislatures in many states (but not the federal government) in the United States and (for injuries other than to the plaintiff's person) by all the Australian states are neither justifiable nor fair.

In Part III, I explain and criticize the rhetorical arguments used by the defense advocates to attempt to convince judges (unsuccessfully) and legislators (successfully) that replacing solidary liability with proportionate liability is necessary to be consistent with the common law and allocation of liability consistent with each person's individual responsibility.

In Part IV, I describe (1) the primary role played by recurrent cycles of "soft" and "hard" liability insurance markets, made possible by lack of proper regulation of the insurance industry, in creating recurrent liability insurance crises, (2) the successful effort of the insurance industry and other defense interests to portray tort liability rather than the flaws in the liability insurance market as the cause of the recurrent liability insurance crises in order to promote "tort reform" while avoiding needed regulation of the insurance industry, and (3) the recurrent failure of the enacted "tort reforms" to provide the promised reduction or moderation in liability insurance premiums.

Keywords: allocation of liability, liability insurance markets, tort reform rhetoric, solidary liability, joint and several liability, proportionate liability

Suggested Citation

Wright, Richard W., Allocating Liability Among Multiple Responsible Causes: Principles, Rhetoric and Power (November 30, 2018). Apportionment in Private Law, ch. 2 (K. Barker & R. Grantham eds., Hart, Dec. 2018). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3293859

Richard W. Wright (Contact Author)

Chicago-Kent College of Law - Illinois Institute of Technology ( email )

565 W. Adams St.
Chicago, IL 60661-3691
United States
312-906-5044 (Phone)
312-906-5280 (Fax)

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