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JUSTICE v. UNITED STATES

September 20, 1962

Forrest E. JUSTICE, Plaintiff,
v.
UNITED STATES of America, Defendant, v. Samuel PICCININI, trading and doing business as Rochester Coal Trucking and Contracting Company, Third-Party Defendant. Charles ROTH, Plaintiff, v. UNITED STATES of America, Defendant, v. Samuel PICCININI, trading and doing business as Rochester Coal Trucking and Contracting Company, Third-Party Defendant



The opinion of the court was delivered by: DUMBAULD

The plaintiffs in the instant causes sued the United States under the Tort Claims Act, 28 U.S.C. § 2671, et seq., for personal injuries arising out of a collision between a mail truck and the vehicle in which they were driving to work. This Court has jurisdiction of the cause by virtue of 28 U.S.C. § 1346(b). The other vehicle was driven by an agent of plaintiffs' employer. The United States brought the employer upon the record as a third-party defendant. At trial it was found that both drivers were negligent, and the United States and the employer were joint tortfeasors.

The Tort Claims Act imposes upon the United States liability for tort claims 'in the same manner and to the same extent as a private individual under like circumstances', provided that the United States shall not be liable for interest prior to judgment or for punitive damages. 28 U.S.C. § 2674.

 Under Pennsylvania law, as set forth in Brown v. Dickey, 397 Pa. 454, 155 A.2d 836 (1959), the liability of an employer who is a joint tortfeasor is limited to any unpaid balance of the amount due to plaintiff under the provisions of the Workmen's Compensation Law of Pennsylvania. An employer's liability to a joint tortfeasor is similarly limited to the same extent.

 It is stipulated on the record by the parties to this case that in fact, regardless of what the amount of unpaid liability under the Workmen's Compensation Law may have been, releases were obtained by the employer from the plaintiffs, and plaintiff Roth was paid $ 7750.00 and plaintiff Justice was paid $ 3750.00.

 On September 27, 1961, the Court rendered judgment against the United States in the amount of $ 10,000.00 in favor of plaintiff, Charles Roth, and in favor of the plaintiff, Forrest E. Justice, in the amount of $ 5,000.00. It was further adjudged that the United States and the employer were joint tortfeasors and that the right of contribution exists in favor of the United States against the employer for such amount as the United States may hereafter prove it has paid to the plaintiffs, or any of them, in excess of its pro rata share of the amount due to said plaintiffs, to wit: 'to the plaintiff, Charles Roth, in excess of five thousand ($ 5,000.00) dollars, to the plaintiff, Forrest E. Justice, in excess of two thousand five hundred ($ 2,500.00) dollars'.

 The United States has paid nothing to either plaintiff.

 The United States now contends that its liability is limited to the difference between the full face of the judgment against it and the amount which plaintiffs have received pursuant to the releases entered into with their employer. In figures, this means that the United States claims that it should pay Charles Roth $ 2,250.00 and Forrest E. Justice $ 1,250.00.

 The United States accordingly filed on August 6, 1962, its pending motion under Rule 60 F.R.Civ.P., 28 U.S.C. for relief from the judgment of September 27, 1961.

 Plaintiffs on the other hand contend that the United States should pay them the entire face amount of the judgment, just as an individual or corporate defendant would be required to pay the full amount of the judgment, and thereafter be relegated to its remedy against the other joint tortfeasor for contribution.

 The question in dispute seems to be whether the Pennsylvania Uniform Contribution Among Tortfeasors Act of July 19, 1951, P.L. 1130, 12 P.S. § 2082 et seq., applies to the United States as a joint torfeasor.

 The Act also provides that 'a release by the injured person of one joint tortfeasor, whether before or after judgment, does not discharge the other joint tortfeasors unless the release so provides, but reduces the claim against the other tortfeasors in the amount of the consideration paid for the release or in any amount or proportion by which the release provides that the total claim shall be reduced if greater than the consideration paid.' 12 P.S. § 2085.

 The plaintiffs contend that this Pennsylvania statute does not apply to the United States. Their contention boils down to the proposition that the word 'persons' in 12 P.S. § 2082 does not include the United States. Cf. United States v. Cooper Corp., 312 U.S. 600, 614, 61 S. Ct. 742, 85 L. Ed. 1071 (1941) and Georgia v. Evans, 316 U.S. 159, 161-62, 62 S. Ct. 972, 86 L. Ed. 1346 (1942).

 In support of this contention they point out that the general Statutory Construction Act of May 28, 1937, P.L. 1019, 46 P.S. § 601(84), states that the word 'person' is defined as including a corporation, partnership and association, as well as a natural person. But this is not conclusive of ...


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