Lawyer: Big Business Targets Wisdom of Simple Justice

Florida law holds that when a person is injured from someone’s negligence, without whose negligence the injury would not have occurred, the negligent party is fully accountable. It matters not whether negligence is small or gross.

Under the doctrine of joint and several liability, the test is whether the individual negligence of two or more persons was the cause of the accident, without either of which the accident would not have occurred. This is simple justice, but the big-business lobby, represented by Associated Industries, is waging a battle to eliminate the doctrine of joint and several liability evolved from the wisdom of ages.

The commercial world rhetorically asks, “Why should a party 10 percent at fault be responsible for 100 percent of the damages? The better question is: Why should a negligent party be relieved from responsibility when his 10 percent negligence caused the accident?

Joint and several liability also applies in criminal law, too. In a bank robbery, the person holding the flashlight for the safe cracker is deemed equally guilty as the more skilled work of the safe cracker. If this example were a civil case, Associated Industries would argue the flashlight man should receive jail time of 10 percent of that received by the safe cracker who actually opened the safe and bagged the money.

More graphically, the felony/ murder rule in criminal law, just as joint and several liability in civil law, places equal blame on two holdup men, one of whom shoots the storekeeper and the other of whom merely cleaned out the cash register. No apportionment of blame is attempted; both men will be charged with murder in the first degree.

Associated Industries of Florida represents commercial vehicles. How successful would an organization called Associated Criminals of Florida be in lobbying a statute compelling the court to apportion fault between criminals and requiring imposition of the sentence pursuant to that apportionment?

Two negligent vehicles coming together and paralyzing our bodies without adequate remedy should concern us most. We should be less concerned about the arbitrary, if not capricious, percentaging of responsibility between two wrongdoers, each of whose negligence caused the accident, or worried about deep-pocket issues or the overly vaunted spin of frivolous suits.

The priority of the greater public interest is to deliver justice both to the victims of crime and negligence. The greater public interest is not served by easing up on criminal or civil violators whose joint or several (individual) violations of the law wreak havoc on life and property.

By Russell Troutman
The Orlando Sentinel
Wednesday March 29, 2006

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