Where multiple defendants exist, a jury shall allocate a percentage of liability to each defendant, even if only one product is the subject of the lawsuit. Allied Signal, Inc. v. Moran, Number 13-00-00537-CV, Court of Appeals of Texas, 13th District, Corpus Christi, August 27, 2003.
Bart Moran’s 1997 Dodge Caravan minivan was struck by another vehicle, driven by Luvh Rahke. The collision caused the minivan to roll over and Moran was ejected from the seat, later dying from fatal injuries related to the accident. His wife sued Rahke, Daimler Chrysler and Allied Signal for negligence and product liability. She claimed that the seat belt the decedent wore during the accident was defective because it released inadvertently after the car rolled over and the decedent’s hand or arm came into contact with the seat belt buckle. The two corporate defendants offered conflicting evidence regarding which company was ultimately responsible for the design of the seat belt. After instruction from the trial court, the jury returned a verdict that the defendant Rahke was 1% responsible for the decedent’s death and “the seat belt buckle” was 99% responsible for the decedent’s death. The corporate defendants were each found jointly and severally liable without apportioning responsibility between them. Each corporate defendant appealed, arguing that the jury charge was improper because the trial court failed to instruct the jury to submit each corporate defendant’s percentage of responsibility under the Texas Civil Practice Code. The appellate court reviewed the matter de novo and held that the jury charge was improper. It held that where there are multiple defendants, the finder of fact must allocate the percentage of liability to each defendant, not only with regard to the subject product. Failure to do so will result in logistical problems concerning the plaintiff’s recovery. Furthermore, under the Texas Civil Practice Code, a defendant may be found jointly and severally liable only if the defendant is found to be greater than 50% responsible. In this case, both defendants could not be held jointly and severally liable because they could not both be greater than 50% liable. The appellate court noted that it is not always improper to charge the jury with regard to a subject product; only if there are multiple defendants regarding the same product is there a problem.
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