In the context of a tort action, joint and several liability arises only among joint tortfeasors. In the Uniform Contribution Among Joint Tortfeasors Act, 42 Pa. Const. Stat. Ann. § 8321 et seq., joint tortfeasors are defined as two or more persons jointly or severally liable in tort for the same injury to persons or property. 42 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 8322. In order for two persons to be joint tortfeasors, they must have committed a joint tort. Where the acts of the original wrongdoer and the alleged joint tortfeasor are severable as to time, neither having the opportunity to guard against the other's acts, and each breaching a different duty owed to the injured plaintiff, the persons are not joint tortfeasors.
The college argued that the court lacked subject matter jurisdiction over the third-party complaint because under applicable law, it could not be liable for any portion of the claim against the manufacturer. The consumer's complaint alleged that on July 9, 1977, she cooked sausage according to the manufacturer's directions, and that because of a defect, the appliance did not properly cook the sausage, causing her to contract trichinosis. On the other hand, the third party complaint alleged that the trichinosis resulted from the consumer’s ingestion of a pork product served in the cafeteria of the college. The college sought a determination of its defenses to the third-party complaint pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(d).
Does the court have subject matter jurisdiction over the third-party complaint?
The court agreed that it lacked subject matter jurisdiction because the college could not be jointly and severally liable for all or part of the consumer's products liability claims against the manufacturer. Even assuming arguendo that the manufacturer and the college were joint tortfeasors, the third-party complaint alleged liability based on an event completely separate from the consumer's claim against the manufacturer, vitiating the manufacturer's claim against the college for contribution. As the court agreed that it lacked subject matter jurisdiction over the third-party complaint, it did not reach the college's other arguments.