Thursday, February 20, 2020

Pennsylvania Supreme Court Addresses Proper Application of Fair Share Act

In the case of Roverano v. John Crane, Inc., No. 26 EAP 2018 (Feb. 19, 2020 Mundy, J.), the Pennsylvania Supreme Court addressed the issue of whether the Fair Share Act, 42 Pa. C.S.A 7102, required a factfinder to apportion liability on a percentage, as opposed to per capita, basis in strict liability asbestos actions.

According to the Opinion, the Plaintiff, William Roverano, was allegedly exposed to a variety of asbestos products from 1971 to 1981 in the course of his employment as a helper and a carpenter with PECO Energy Company. Additionally, he allegedly smoked cigarettes for approximately thirty years. In November 2013, Roverano was diagnosed with lung cancer in both lungs. 

In 2014, Roverano brought a strict liability lawsuit against various defendants asserting that exposure to their asbestos products caused his lung cancer. His wife, Jacqueline Roverano, filed a loss of consortium claim. 

Before trial, several defendants filed a Motion In Limine seeking a ruling that the Fair Share Act applied to asbestos cases. The issues raised in that Motion gradually made its way up the appellate ladder to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. 

The Supreme Court concluded the Act’s plain language was consistent with per capita apportionment in asbestos cases, the Act does not specifically preempt Pennsylvania common law favoring per capita apportionment, and percentage apportionment in asbestos cases was impossible to execute. 

Accordingly, the Supreme Court reversed the Superior Court’s Order, which had vacated the trial court’s judgment and remanded this case for a new trial to apportion damages on a percentage basis. 

Additionally, the Supreme Court considered whether the Act required a factfinder to apportion liability to bankrupt entities that had previously entered into a release with the Plaintiff. In this regard, the Court concluded that, upon appropriate requests and proofs, bankruptcy trusts that were either joined as third-party defendants or that had entered into a Release with the plaintiff should be included on the verdict sheet for purposes of liability only. 

In the end, this case was remanded to the trial court to consider whether the parties submitted sufficient requests and proofs to apportion liability to the settled bankruptcy trusts.

The Majority Opinion can be viewed HERE.

Justice Wecht's Concurring Opinion can be viewed HERE.

Chief Justice Saylor's Concurring and Dissenting Opinion can be viewed HERE.

I send thanks to Attorney Kenneth Newman of the Pittsburgh Office of Thomas, Thomas & Hafer for noting this case.

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