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Arkansas Clarifies That Joint Tortfeasor Who Has Settled Cannot be Made a Party Through a Third-Party Complaint for Contribution


A patient at a medical center developed pressure sores. The patient was discharged to a senior living center where the pressure sores became infected. He was sent to a hospital to treat the infected pressure sores.

 

The injured patient and his wife sued the medical center and senior living center for negligence and medical malpractice, as well as violations of the Arkansas Long Term Care Resident's Rights Statute. The patient settled with the senior living center. Subsequently, the medical center sought to join the senior living center as a third-party defendant. Following the Arkansas Civil Justice Reform Act (CJRA), the Pulaski County Circuit Court dismissed the medical center's third-party complaint for failure to state a claim. The relevant portion of the CJRA states:

(a) In any action for personal injury, medical injury, property damage, or wrongful death, the liability of each defendant for compensatory or punitive damages shall be several only and shall not be joint.

 

(b)(1) Each defendant shall be liable only for the amount of damages allocated to that defendant in direct proportion to that defendant's percentage of fault.

 

(2) A separate several judgment shall be rendered against that defendant for that amount.

 

(c)(1) To determine the amount of judgment to be entered against each defendant, the court shall multiply the total amount of damages recoverable by the plaintiff with regard to each defendant by the percentage of each defendant's fault.

 

(2) That amount shall be the maximum recoverable against that defendant.

 

Ark.Code Ann. § 16–55–201

 

The Supreme Court of Arkansas affirmed holding, first, that the medical center did not have a cause of action against the senior living center under the CJRA. The medical center, which was a defendant in the injured patient's medical malpractice action, did not have a cause of action against the senior living center, which had been a co-defendant but which earlier had settled with the injured patient, under the CJRA. The CJRA provided only that liability was to be apportioned to each defendant. Here, the medical center was the only defendant in case. Moreover, the legislature provided by statute that the CJRA did not create a separate cause of action.

 

Second, the court held that the senior living center was not a joint tortfeasor from whom the medical center could seek contribution under the Arkansas Uniform Contribution Among Tortfeasors Act (UCATA). The court held that, following the enactment of the CJRA, liability of defendants was several only as joint and several liability has been abolished.

 

Finally, the court held that the senior living center was not an indispensable party. Each defendant was only severally liable under the CJRA. The presence of thesenior living center was not required to determine the medical center's separate liability. Under joint and several liability, joint tortfeasors are not considered to be necessary or indispensable parties, as all potential tortfeasors are not required to be named as defendants in a single lawsuit.

 

See: St. Vincent Infirmary Medical Center v. Shelton, 2013 Ark. 38, 2013 WL 460436 (Ark., February 7, 2013) (not designated for publication).

 

 

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