What does the Superior Court's decision in Spencer v. Johnson (Pa. Super. 48) mean?
On March 18, 2021, the Pennsylvania Superior Court decided Spencer v. Johnson, 2021 Pa. Super. 48 (Pa. Super. Ct. March 18, 2021) in which the court suggested in dicta that the Fair Share Act is only implicated when the plaintiff’s comparative negligence is at issue.
Before the decision came down in Spencer, insurance companies would argue that they only had to pay their "fair share" of a settlement or a verdict. This meant that if a defendant (i.e., insurance company) was found to only be 30% at fault or responsible, that they would only have to pay 30% of the settlement or verdict with the remaining percentage of liability to be attributed to other parties involved in the case. The implications of this cannot be overstated: injured persons would often get verdicts for hundreds of thousands, or even millions, of dollars but only be able to recover a smaller percentage or portion of those verdicts from the insurance company.
Now, as a result of the decision in Spencer, we may see a return to what is called "joint and several liability". This means that if a party, or insurance company, is found to be negligent in causing the injuries in any manner whatsoever, they could be responsible for the entire verdict amount.
The decision in Spencer, however, is predicated on the fact that a Plaintiff, or the injured person, cannot be found to be comparatively or contributorily negligent in any way. If the Plaintiff was in any way a cause of their own injuries, then the rule from Spencer would not apply. In any event, this is great news for p[people who are injured due to the negligence or carelessness of others in Pennsylvania.
The Spencer case is not over yet. We are likely to see an additional appeal taken by the insurance carrier to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. Stay tuned for further updates as this case proceeds through the appellate court system.