When two or more tort-feasors act concurrently or in concert to produce a single injury, they may be held jointly and severally liable. On the other hand, where multiple tort-feasors neither act in concert nor contribute concurrently to the same wrong, they are not joint tort-feasors; rather, their wrongs are independent and successive. Under successive and independent liability, the initial tort-feasor may well be liable to the plaintiff for the entire damage proximately resulting from his own wrongful acts including aggravation of injuries by a successive tort-feasor. The successive tort-feasor, however, is liable only for the separate injury or the aggravation his conduct has caused.
A malpractice action was filed on behalf of plaintiff claimant against defendants, an obstetrician and a pediatrician, after the claimant was born with severe brain damage. The trial court found that the negligence of both defendants contributed to claimant's injuries and that it was impossible to tell to what extent each defendant contributed to the injuries. The trial court found defendants jointly and severally liable for plaintiff's injuries. On appeal, the appellate court affirmed the trial court’s judgment. On further appeal, defendant pediatrician argued that he should not be held jointly and severally liable and should only be responsible as a successive and independent tort-feasor. The Court of Appeals of New York affirmed the appellate court’s decision.
Was joint and several liability properly imposed upon defendant pediatrician where, notwithstanding that defendants neither acted in concert nor concurrently, a single indivisible injury (brain damage) was negligently inflicted?
The trial court did not err in holding defendants jointly and severally liable as plaintiff claimant's injuries were indivisible, and it was impossible for the trial court to determine the extent to which each defendant contributed to the injuries. The trial court's apportionment of fault only established the amount of contribution defendants could claim from each other, did not impinge upon the claimant's right to collect the entire judgment award from either defendant, and was in no way a determination of the extent to which each defendant contributed to the injuries.