Friday, September 12, 2014

Keeping Settling Defendants on the Verdict Slip

In his recent decision in the case of Stang v. Smith, PICS Case No. 14-1199 (C.P. Carbon Co. July 28, 2014 Nanovic, P.J.), Judge Roger Nanovic of the Carbon County Court of Common Pleas addressed the issue of whether settling Defendants under a joint tortfeasor release could be required to be on the verdict slip at a medical malpractice trial.  

In this medical malpractice case, several of the Defendants had settled out prior to trial utilizing a pro rata joint tortfeasor release in accordance Uniform Contribution Among Tort-Feasor’s Act.   At trial, all of the Defendants were identified.  The jury entered a defense verdict and the Plaintiff moved for a new trial asserting that the court erred in denying her Motion to Discontinue her suit against the settling Defendants.  The Plaintiff also argued that the court erred by placing the names of the settling Defendants on the jury verdict slip in order for the jury to determine the comparative liability of the settling doctors as well as the non-settling Defendants.  

Judge Nanovic ruled that, under Pennsylvania law, the non-settling Defendants were entitled to have the settling Defendants remain as parties in order to establish their status as joint tortfeasor and, if found to be joint tortfeasor, to have the jury apportion liability amongst them so that the amount of damages be non-settling Defendants might be liability to pay could be determined.  

While Judge Nanovic noted that, although the non-settling Defendants had a right to inquire a settling Defendant to remain as a party, there was no absolute right to have a settling Defendant noted on the verdict slip.  Rather, in order to ensure that a settling Defendant would be included on the verdict slip, evidence had to be presented to establish a prima facie case of negligence against that settling Defendant.  

Applying the law to the case before him, Judge Nanovic found that evidence was presented which compelled the victim of all Defendants, settling and non-settling, upon the verdict slip.  

I do not have a copy of this decision.  Anyone wishing to secure a copy of the staying decision by Judge Nanovic may call the Pennsylvania Instant Case Service of the Pennsylvania Law Weekly at 1-800-276-7427 and provide the above-noted PICS Case No. and pay a small fee.   

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