Jensen v. Intermountain Health Care

679 P.2d 903 (Utah Sup.Ct. 1984)

 

RULE:

Joint tortfeasors are liable for contribution without regard to their degree of negligence unless there is such a disproportion of fault that it would be inequitable for there to be an equal distribution by contribution among them of their common liability. If the trial court makes a finding that contribution by equal distribution among the joint tortfeasors (all of them) would be inequitable, then the relative degrees of fault of the joint tortfeasors shall be considered in determining their pro rata shares; but that is solely for the purpose of determining their rights of contribution among themselves, each remaining severally liable to the injured person for the whole injury as at common law.

FACTS:

In a medical malpractice action, it was alleged that the decedent died as a result of the negligence in part of an emergency room physician and the hospital. The plaintiffs settled with the defendant doctor and went to trial against the hospital. The jury returned a special verdict, finding plaintiffs' decedent 46 percent negligent in causing his own death; Intermountain Health Care, Inc., 36 percent negligent; and the doctor, 18 percent negligent. Judgment was entered in favor of plaintiff Shirley J. Jensen and against the defendant hospital. The trial court then set aside the original award and entered a judgment of no cause of action.

ISSUE:

Whether the Utah Comparative Negligence Act (Act), Utah Code Ann. § 78-27-37 et seq., required the negligence of each defendant in a multi-defendant case to be compared individually against the negligence of the plaintiff.

ANSWER:

No.

CONCLUSION:

The court reversed the dismissal and remanded. The court found that adoption of the rule requiring individual comparison nullified critical portions of the Act and produced unfair results for both plaintiffs and defendants. The court determined that the legislature intended to alleviate the harshness of contributory negligence and provide for a system of loss allocation by apportioning liability based, in part, on fault, and to provide contribution among tortfeasors according to fault.

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