Academic journal article The University of Memphis Law Review

Comparative Fault-Banks V. Elks Club Pride: Preserving Fairness in Liability While Adhering to Strict Comparative Fault Principles

Academic journal article The University of Memphis Law Review

Comparative Fault-Banks V. Elks Club Pride: Preserving Fairness in Liability While Adhering to Strict Comparative Fault Principles

Article excerpt

I. HISTORY .................................................................................. 638

A. The Mclntyre Doctrine ..................................................... 638

B. Exceptions to Comparative Fault ..................................... 642

C The Original Tortfeasor Doctrine .................................... 647

II. BANKS V. ELKS CLUB PRIDE ..................................................... 652

III. CONCLUSION ........................................................................... 661

For many years, Tennessee's tort law included both the defense of contributory negligence and the doctrine of joint and several liability.1 In 1992, however, the Tennessee Supreme Court ("Supreme Court") updated its law by adopting a system of modified comparative fault allowing plaintiffs to recover even when they are partially at fault for their injury.2 In 2010, the Supreme Court analyzed whether an original tortfeasor is "jointly and severally liable for the further aggravation of an original injury caused by a subsequent tortfeasor's medically negligent treatment."3 In reaching their decision, the Supreme Court compared the primary goal of comparative fault - to closely link fault and liability4 - with the inherent risk in creating numerous exceptions to the rule.5 The Supreme Court held, an original tortfeasor causing injury would not be jointly or severally liable for further aggravation of that injury by a "subsequent tortfeasor's medically negligent treatment." Banks v. Elks Club Pride, 301 S.W.3d. 214, 216 (Tenn. 2010). While the court considered this holding to be an affirmation of the existing law, the opinion overruled three previous Tennessee Court of Appeals decisions and clarified the continuing applicability of the original tortfeasor rule under the comparative fault system. The newly clarified rule preserves the Tennessee judiciary's longstanding goal of fairness in liability6 in two ways. First, it reevaluated and upheld Mclntyre v. Balentine, confirming that comparative fault is the default rule in Tennessee.7 Second, the ruling clarifies the role of the original tortfeasor doctrine, establishing comparative fault's compatibility with the common-law rule allowing original tortfeasors to be found liable for subsequent negligent care by third parties.8

I. HISTORY

A. The Mclntyre Doctrine

Mclntyre v. Balentine, a landmark case in Tennessee, ushered in the doctrine of comparative fault, setting aside the defense of contributory negligence.9 Under a contributory negligence system, a plaintiff was barred from any recovery if they contributed at all to their injury.10 The Mclntyre court, however, abandoned the rule of contributory negligence in Tennessee after reassessing the judicial goal of linking liability to fault. ' ' Though pre-McIntyre fault determinations were harsh, the court felt that a clear relationship between liability and fault better promoted judicial fairness.12 Under the new doctrine of comparative fault, a plaintiff in Tennessee may recover "so long as plaintiffs negligence remains less than the defendant's negligence."13 The transition from contributory negligence to comparative fault allowed plaintiffs to recover for their injuries and also relieved defendants of the burden of complete financial liability for an offense committed by multiple parties.14 One of the most significant implications stemming from the new system of comparative fault, however, was the court's statement that its decision rendered joint and several liability "obsolete."15 The court reasoned that their adoption of a doctrine based in fairness could not co-exist with a principie that puts a party at risk of disproportionate liability.16

Although Mclntyre established a clear rule of comparative fault, the court also recognized that distinct cases could arise challenging application of the new law.17 The court did not explicitly preclude any future considerations of joint and several liability "in certain limited circumstances," despite its dicta rendering the doctrine obsolete. …

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