Lamson, Dugan and Murray, LLP, Attorneys at Law

Economic Damages and Joint and Several Liability, Part V

Posted in In-House Counsel, Legislation

As per my note in Part IV, I am going to take a look at a case which appears to be contrary to the Nebraska Supreme Court’s ruling in Tadros v. City of Omaha, 273 Neb. 935, 735 N.W.2d 377 (2007), Jameson v. Liquid Controls Corp., 260 Neb. 489, 618 N.W.2d 637 (2000).  However, common analysis between the opinions does create some consistency. 

Jameson was a strict liability suit against brought against Liquid Controls and Blackmer after Richard Jameson was severely burned while attempting to repair a fuel delivery truck.  Liquid Controls and Blackmer manufactured certain parts on the truck.  After completing the trial but before the case was submitted to the jury, Blackmer paid $1,425,000 to settle and received a release of all claims from Jameson.  The case was submitted to the jury on the strict liability claim against Liquid Controls.  The jury returned a verdict for $5,000,000.  After the trial, Liquid Controls moved for a pro rata (50%) or pro tanto ($1,425,000) credit on the verdict.  The trial court denied the motion. 

On appeal, the Nebraska Supreme Court determined the trial court erred and should have provided Liquid Controls with a pro tanto credit for the amount already paid by Blackmer.  The Court’s reasoning relied upon: (1) Jameson filing a strict liability action against both Liquid Controls and Blackmer; (2) the complaint seeking an unspecified amount of damages against both defendants; and (3) the jury determining the total damages equaled $5,000,000.  As such, Liquid Controls was entitled to a pro tanto credit for the sums already paid to Jameson. 

In reaching its conclusion, the Court did not mention the Comparative Fault Act.  Importantly, the Act was in effect at the time of Jameson’s injuries.  In an interesting turn of events, the Nebraska Supreme Court subsequently determined comparative fault is not a defense to strict liability.  Shipler v. General Motors Corp.  271 Neb. 194, 710 N.W.2d 807 (2006).  As a result, the Comparative Fault Act would not be applicable in JamesonSee Neb.Rev.Stat. § 25-21,185.07.  There is an argument that a pro tanto credit is available in a strict liability case when a co-defendant settles.

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