NH Supreme Court Upholds Proportional Damage Award Limits

July 1, 2002

The New Hampshire Supreme Court has upheld a state law limiting the payment of damages to the percentage of fault in cases where a defendant has been found less than 50 percent liable for the injuries.

A report from the American Insurance Association on the Web site of the Professional Insurance Agents of New Hampshire describes the ruling as involving claims for injuries by the passengers against the driver who caused the accident. He was drunk at the time, and the passengers also sued the tavern who sold the drinks.

Despite a settlement finding that the driver was more than 50 percent responsible for the crash, and the tavern bore only a 25 percent responsibility, the claimants sought to recover the entire damage award from the tavern and its insurer. The court’s ruling upheld the “several liability” of the tavern, but denied joint liability, limiting the recovery to 25 percent.

The AIA had filed an amicus brief in the case, and Donald Baldini, AIA assistant VP and president of the northeast region expressed satisfaction at the result, noting that it would help to contain auto insurance costs.

“If the plaintiffs had won, it would have created the remarkably unfair situation where defendants could be made to pay damages not based on their degree of fault, but because they have more assets than other defendants,” Baldini stated. “This would create a situation where trial lawyers would search for defendants who are only a little at fault but have deep pockets.”

Pennsylvania’s Senate recently passed legislation similar to New Hampshire’s (See IJ Website June 14).

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