IF A PLAINTIFF IS PARTIALLY AT FAULT FOR THEIR INJURIES CAN THEIR FAULT BE COMPARED TO THE DEFENDANT’S FAULT?
Sometimes the black letter law passed by the legislature is unclear. The legislature can’t anticipate every possible fact scenario when they pass a law, so it lay to the courts to interpret the law and give guidance to what it means. This interpretation is called case law. When the court decides a certain meeting to the law it essentially answers a legal question. Lawyers and other courts then can rely on that ruling when they have a similar issue in their case. The following case answers the question above.
Prince v. Leesona Corp., Inc, 720 F.2d 1166 (10th Cir. 1983).
This case addresses the following issue:
If a plaintiff is at fault, should his or her fault be compared with the defendant’s fault?
This case explored the issue of whether the plaintiff’s fault should be compared with the defendant’s fault. In exploring this issue, the court concluded that all types of fault by the plaintiff, regardless of degree, were to be compared with that of the defendant whether the fault was characterized as negligence by the plaintiff, assumption of risk, product misuse, or unreasonable use. Id. at 1171.
This case involved a personal injuries lawsuit by an employee (plaintiff) against an equipment manufacturer (defendant) when the plaintiff caught her hair in the rotating shaft of her employer’s machine. Id. at 1167. The plaintiff’s employer was free from liability due to a Kansas worker’s compensation law. Id. Therefore, the employer was not named as a defendant in the case but was added by the court as a “phantom party.” Id. As a phantom party, the defendant could be found to share a percentage of fault in the incident but did not have to pay any type of damages to the plaintiff. Id. After the trial, the jury found the plaintiff’s damages to be $200,000 and found that the plaintiff was 35% at fault, the defendant was 5% at fault, and the employer was 60% at fault. Id. Since the employer was a phantom party and was not responsible to pay damages to the plaintiff, the only monetary damage the plaintiff received was $10,000 (5% of the total damages) from the defendant. Id. at 1168. As a result, the plaintiff appealed the court’s decision. Id.
The court’s decision that the employer was 65% at fault was a big blow to the damages the plaintiff received. Therefore, the plaintiff needed to make an argument to prove that the employer’s percentage of fault should not have been taken into consideration. In order to do this, the plaintiff argued that since the employer was a user of the equipment, its fault could only be considered if it met the elements of the assumption of risk. Id. at 1171. The elements of assumption of risk included: the injured plaintiff (1) discovered the defect; (2) was aware of the danger; and (3) unreasonably continued to use the product. Id. at 1169. In response to the plaintiff’s argument, the court indicated that they could take the employer’s fault into consideration even if it did not meet the elements of assumption of risk. Id. at 1171. Additionally, the court stated that all parties to an occurrence must have their fault determined in one action, even though some parties cannot be formally joined or held legally responsible. Id. In this case, the employer could not be formally joined or held legally responsible because of the Kansas worker’s compensation law. Id. at 1167. Furthermore, the court noted that all types of fault, regardless of degree, were to be compared with that of the defendant whether the fault was characterized as negligence by the plaintiff, assumption of risk, product misuse, or unreasonable use. Id. at 1171.
In conclusion, the court concluded that all types of fault by the plaintiff, regardless of degree, were to be compared with that of the defendant. Id.