Under Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 231B, contribution is allowed between joint tort-feasors who cause another, by reason of their wrongdoing, to incur injury or damage. In addition, the statute permits a plaintiff to settle with one joint tort-feasor and still have recourse against remaining tort-feasors subject to the limitations stated in the statute. The right to contribution, unlike the right to indemnity, is based on the shared fault of the joint tort-feasors. Indemnity, on the other hand, allows someone who is without fault, compelled by operation of law to defend himself against the wrongful act of another, to recover from the wrongdoer the entire amount of his loss, including reasonable attorney's fees. Indemnity is permitted only when the would-be indemnitee does not join in the negligent act. This right to indemnity is limited to those cases in which the would-be indemnitee is held derivatively or vicariously liable for the wrongful act of another.
The driver pleaded guilty to a motor vehicle homicide in the death of the parents' baby. Before the civil trial instituted by the parents against the driver, the parents signed a settlement agreement with the car maker that gave the car maker a release of liability on any claim. The driver had filed a third-party complaint against the car maker for negligence and breach of warranties of merchantability and fitness for particular purpose. The car maker filed a motion for summary judgment against the driver's claims on the grounds that the settlement with the parents was made in good faith and under Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 231B, § 4, the car maker was released from liability for contribution to the driver. The trial court granted summary judgment to the car maker.
Was the driver entitled to indemnification from the car maker?
The court affirmed the summary judgment agains the driver. It held that there was no evidence of bad faith in the negotiation of the settlement. It further held that when a release is given in good faith to one of two or more persons liable in tort for the same injury it shall discharge the tort-feasor to whom it is given from all liability for contribution to any other tort-feasor.