NJ Supreme Court Makes Major Ruling Regarding Responsibility for Damages after Joint Tort Settlement

01.04.22

On December 23, the New Jersey Supreme Court made a significant ruling involving allocating damages in a wrongful death action involving multiple defendants. The case involved a woman who tripped, fell, and suffered an ankle fracture while leaving a restaurant owned and operated by several “property defendants.” She died three weeks after ankle surgery that resulted in a fatal pulmonary embolism which the plaintiff attributed to the actions of the “medical defendants." The plaintiff (widower of the deceased) filed suit as the executor of the estate against both the property and medical defendants.

Claims against the property defendants were settled for $1.15 million. The remaining medical defendants moved for an order requesting a pro-rated credit for the amount paid in settlement. The Supreme Court ordered for cases like this in the future juries will undertake a two-step process. First, the jury shall determine the total amount of damages and then allocate percentages of fault to each defendant. Second, after the jury’s verdict, the trial court would then determine damages attributed to non-settling defendants in accordance with the jury’s allocation of fault. This decision modified the original process that essentially allowed damages from the settling defendant to be credited towards the amount a jury determines the non-settling defendant would be liable for.

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