It is not necessary for all joint tort-feasors to be named as defendants in a single lawsuit under Fed. R. Civ. P. 19(a). Rather, a tort-feasor with the usual joint-and-several liability is merely a permissive party to an action against another with like liability.
Petitioner underwent surgery in which a "plate and screw device" was implanted in his lower spine. After the surgery, the device's screws broke off inside petitioner's back. Petitioner filed suit against respondent manufacturer alleging defective design and manufacture of the device. In a separate action against his physician and the hospital, petitioner sued for malpractice and negligence. The trial court dismissed the suit with prejudice for failure to join the doctor and the hospital in the lawsuit against respondent. This was further affirmed by the appellate court. The United States Supreme Court reversed the judgment of dismissal and remanded for further proceedings.
Were the doctor and hospital, as joint tort-feasors, indispensable parties?
The Court concluded that it was not necessary for all joint tort-feasors to be named as defendants in a single lawsuit. The Court held that the doctor and hospital, as joint tort-feasors with the manufacturer of the device, were merely permissive parties, and the trial court erred in ordering them joined as indispensable parties and in dismissing the action when petitioner failed to comply with the trial court's order to join them.