Apportionment and Pennsylvania’s Fair Share Act

In 2011, Pennsylvania enacted the Fair Share Act, which was remedial legislation designed to mitigate the unfairness of joint and several liability in mass, and other, tort litigation by abrogating joint and several liability in favor of apportionment of shares among multiple defendants, including settled defendants.1

Although the statute stated the general rule in terms of negligence,2 the Act was clearly intended to apply to actions for so-called strict liability:3

“(1) Where recovery is allowed against more than one person, including actions for strict liability, and where liability is attributed to more than one defendant, each defendant shall be liable for that proportion of the total dollar amount awarded as damages in the ratio of the amount of that defendant’s liability to the amount of liability attributed to all defendants and other persons to whom liability is apportioned under subsection.”

The intended result of the legislation was for courts to enter separate and several judgments against defendants held liable in the amount apportioned to each defendant’s liability.4 The Act created exceptions for for intentional torts and for cases in which a defendant receives 60% or greater share in the apportionment.5

In Pennsylvania, as in other states, judges sometimes fall prey to the superstition that the law, procedural and substantive, does not apply to asbestos cases. Roverano v. John Crane, Inc., is an asbestos case in which the plaintiff claimed his lung cancer was caused by exposure to multiple defendants’ products. The trial judge, falling under the sway of asbestos exceptionalism, refused to apply Fair Share Act, suggesting that “the jury was not presented with evidence that would permit an apportionment to be made by it.”

The Roverano trial judge’s suggestion is remarkable, given that any plaintiff is exposed to different asbestos products in distinguishable amounts, and for distinguishable durations. Furthermore, asbestos products have distinguishable, relative levels of friability, with different levels of respirable fiber exposure for the plaintiff. In some cases, the products contain different kinds of asbestos minerals, which have distinguishable and relative levels of potency to cause the plaintiff’s specific disease. Asbestos cases, whether involving asbestosis, lung cancer, or mesothelioma claims, are more amenable to apportionment of shares among co-defendants than are “red car / blue car” cases.

Pennsylvania’s intermediate appellate court reversed the trial court’s asbestos exceptionalism, and held that upon remand, the court must:

“[a]pply a non-per capita allocation to negligent joint tortfeasors and strict liability joint tortfeasors; and permit evidence of settlements reached between plaintiffs and bankrupt entities to be included in the calculation of allocation of liability.”

Roverano v. John Crane, 2017 Pa. Super. 415, 177 A.3d 892 (2017).

The Superior Court’s decision did not sit well with the litigation industry, which likes joint and several liability, with equal shares. Joint and several liability permits plaintiffs’ counsel to extort large settlements from minor defendants who face the prospect of out-sized pro rata shares after trial, without the benefit of reductions for the shares of settled bankrupt defendants. The Roverano plaintiff appealed from the Superior Court’s straightforward application of a remedial statute.

What should be a per curiam affirmance of the Superior Court, however, could result in another act of asbestos exceptionalism by Pennsylvania Supreme Court. Media reports of the oral argument in Roverano suggest that several of the justices invoked the specter of “junk science” in apportioning shares among asbestos co-defendants.6 Disrespectfully, Justice Max Baer commented:

“Respectfully, your theory is interjecting junk science. We’ve never held that duration of contact corresponds with culpability.”7

The Pennsylvania Justices’ muddle can be easily avoided. First, the legislature clearly expressed its intention that apportionment be permitted in strict liability cases.

Second, failure-to-warn strict liability cases are, as virtually all scholars and most courts recognize, essentially negligence cases, in any event.8

Third, apportionment is a well-recognized procedure in the law of Torts, including the Pennsylvania law of torts. Apportionment of damages among various causes was recognized in the Restatement of Torts (Second) Section 433A (Apportionment of Harm to Causes), which specifies that:

(1) Damages for harm are to be apportioned among two or more causes where

(a) there are distinct harms, or

(b) there is a reasonable basis for determining the contribution of each cause to a single harm.

Restatement (Second) of Torts § 433A(1) (1965) [hereinafter cited as Section 433A].

The comments to Section 433A suggest a liberal application for apportionment. The rules set out in Section 433A apply “whenever two or more causes have combined to bring about harm to the plaintiff, and each has been a substantial factor in producing the harm … .”

Id., comment a. The independent causes may be tortious or innocent, “and it is immaterial whether all or any of such persons are joined as defendants in the particular action.” Id. Indeed, apportionment also applies when the defendant’s conduct combines “with the operation of a force of nature, or with a pre-existing condition which the defendant has not caused, to bring about the harm to the plaintiff.” Just as the law of grits applies in everyone’s kitchen, the law of apportionment applies in Pennsylvania courts.

Apportionment of damages is an accepted legal principle in Pennsylvania law. Martin v. Owens-Corning Fiberglas Corp., 515 Pa. 377, 528 A.2d 947 (1987). Courts, applying Pennsylvania law, have permitted juries to apportion damages between asbestos and cigarette smoking as causal factors in plaintiffs’ lung cancers, based upon a reasonable basis for determining the contribution of each source of harm to a single harm.9

In Parker, none of the experts assigned exact mathematical percentages to the probability that asbestos rather than smoking caused the lung cancer. The Court of Appeals noted that on the record before it:

“we cannot say that no reasonable basis existed for determining the contribution of cigarette smoking to the cancer suffered by the decedent.”10

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has itself affirmed the proposition that “liability attaches to a negligent act only to the degree that the negligent act caused the employee’s injury.”11 Thus, even in straight-up negligence cases, causal apportionment must play in a role, even when the relative causal contributions are much harder to determine than in the quasi-quantitative setting of an asbestos exposure claim.

Let’s hope that Justice Baer and his colleagues read the statute and the case law before delivering judgment. The first word in the name of the legislation is Fair.


1 42 Pa.C.S.A. § 7102.

2 42 Pa.C.S.A. § 7102(a)

3 42 Pa.C.S.A. § 7102(a)(1) (emphasis added).

4 42 Pa.C.S.A. § 7102(a)(2).

5 42 Pa.C.S.A. § 7102 (a)(3)(ii), (iii).

7 Id. (quoting Baer, J.).

8 See, e.g, Restatement (Third) of Torts: Products Liability § 2, and comment I (1998); Fane v. Zimmer, Inc., 927 F.2d 124, 130 (2d Cir. 1991) (“Failure to warn claims purporting to sound in strict liability and those sounding in negligence are essentially the same.”).

9 Parker v. Bell Asbestos Mines, No. 86-1197, unpublished slip op. at 5 (3d Cir., Dec. 30, 1987) (per curiam) (citing Section 433A as Pennsylvania law, and Martin v. Owens-Corning Fiberglas Corp. , 515 Pa. 377, 528 A.2d 947, 949 (1987))

10 Id. at 7.

11 Dale v. Baltimore & Ohio RR., 520 Pa. 96, 106, 552 A.2d 1037, 1041 (1989). See also McAllister v. Pennsylvania RR., 324 Pa. 65, 69-70, 187 A. 415, 418 (1936) (holding that plaintiff’s impairment, and pain and suffering, can be apportioned between two tortious causes; plaintiff need not separate damages with exactitude); Shamey v. State Farm Mutual Auto. Ins. Co., 229 Pa. Super. 215, 223, 331 A.2d 498, 502 (1974) (citing, and relying upon, Section 433A; difficulties in proof do not constitute sufficient reason to hold a defendant liable for the damage inflicted by another person). Pennsylvania law is in accord with the law of other states as well, on apportionment. See Waterson v. General Motors Corp., 111 N.J. 238, 544 A.2d 357 (1988) (holding that a strict liability claim against General Motors for an unreasonably dangerous product defect was subject to apportionment for contribution from failing to wear a seat belt) (the jury’s right to apportion furthered the public policy of properly allocating the costs of accidents and injuries).

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