Tort Reform Update: Minnesota has Amended its Joint and Several Liability Act
In May 2003, Minnesota amended its joint and several liability law so that joint liability will not attach unless a defendant is found to be at least 50 percent at fault, and discarded the statute's aggravation of fault provision. The amended statute will apply to all claims arising on or after Aug. 1, 2003. See Joint & Several Liability Reform Bill (S.F. 872), and was signed into law by Governor Pawlenty on May 19, 2003 (Revisor No. 03-216).
Prior to its amendment, Minnesota's joint and several liability law provided that if a party was found to be more than 15% at fault for an injury, it could be liable for 100% of the damages if other defendants were unable to pay their share of a judgment. If a party was found to be 15% or less at fault, it could be held liable for 4 times the amount of their fault if other defendants are unable to pay. See Minn. Stat. § 604.02 (2000).
Minnesota's joint and several liability law was one of the harshest in the nation. By the time it was amended, at least 38 states had abolished joint and several liability or had a higher threshold of fault before a defendant was required to pay 100% of the damages. Iowa, South Dakota and Wisconsin had adopted a 51% fault threshold, while Michigan and North Dakota had abolished joint and several liability altogether except in certain cases. See Civil Justice Reform--Background, available at http://www.mnchamber.com/priorities/civiljustice_bkgd.pdf.