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Pennsylvania Superior Court Holds That Liability Can Be Apportioned Between Reckless and Negligent Defendants  

May 17, 2018

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In <a href=""><em>Straw v. Kirk</em></a>, Thomas Straw was driving his Pontiac Vibe with his wife and two sons.  He was forced to stop the car on the road after the hood latch failed, allowing the hood to open and block his view.  Kirk Fair was driving his employer’s Ford F-250 behind the Straws.  Fair, who was driving under the influence, was not able to avoid the Staws’ car and slammed into it at over sixty miles per hour.  One of the Straws’ sons was killed in the accident, and the survivors suffered serious injuries.  They filed a ten-count complaint against Fair, alleging, among other things, that Fair was recklessly driving and endangering others.
Fair filed a cross claim against Thomas Straw based on a post-accident interview he gave to investigators of the crash in which he stated that he had been aware of the faulty hood latch but determined to drive his car anyways.  The cross claim alleged that, as a result of his own contributory negligence, Thomas Straw was directly liable to his wife, his surviving son, and his deceased son’s estate.  Thomas Straw argued that a defendant cannot assert contributory negligence where the defendant was reckless.  The trial court granted summary judgment on the cross claim in favor of Thomas Straw, dismissing it because contributory negligence cannot be weighed against or applied to a defendant’s reckless conduct.
The Superior vacated the trial court’s judgment and remanded the case.  The Uniform Contribution Among Tortfeasors Act (UCATA) in Pennsylvania permits apportionment wherever recovery is allowed against more than one party.  These broad terms do not limit themselves to negligent conduct, but rather, leave the door open for apportionment between reckless and negligent defendants.  Because Thomas Straw could potentially be assigned a percentage of fault if found negligent, the case was remanded to the trial court so that a jury could determine if he breached a duty he owed to his passengers.
Thanks to Robert Turchick for his contribution to this post.


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