Appeal from the Order of the Court of Common Pleas, Trial Division, of Philadelphia County at No. 6280 June Term 1981.
Joseph T. Bodell, Jr., Philadelphia, for appellant.
Cheryl A. Furey, Philadelphia, for Mattia, appellees.
Frank A. Luchak, Philadelphia, for Shimano, appellee.
Cirillo, President Judge, and McEwen and Tamilia, JJ.
[ 366 Pa. Super. Page 506]
This case concerns a claim for contribution and indemnity by a retailer against a manufacturer for an allegedly defective bicycle which caused injury to the consumer-purchaser. In response to special interrogatories, the jury found that the retailer was negligent but that the product was not defective at the time it left the manufacturer's control. The trial court instructed the jury that it should consider whether the retailer was entitled to indemnity and contribution based on the law of strict liability. The retailer appealed the court's refusal to charge that similar relief should also be considered based upon a negligence theory.
The trial court stated that its decision had two basis: (1) the retailer's complaint failed to set forth sufficient facts to make out a claim for negligence; (2) the retailer failed to introduce evidence at trial to support such a claim.*fn1
At common law, there was no right of contribution between joint tortfeasors. See Leflar, Contribution and Indemnity Between Tortfeasors, 81 U.Pa.L.Rev. 130 (1932). Even if two parties were equally responsible for the plaintiff's injury, one could be held liable for the entire loss while the other went scot free. Id. This inequitable result was universally criticized and eventually was changed via statute. See Prosser, Law of Torts 306-07 (4th ed. 1971); Uniform Contribution Among Tortfeasors Act, 42 Pa.C.S.A. §§ 8321-27.
[ 366 Pa. Super. Page 507]
In Pennsylvania, the statute provides for a right of contribution among joint tortfeasors. 42 Pa.C.S.A. § 8324(a). Joint tortfeasors are defined as "two or more persons jointly or severally liable in tort for the same injury to persons or property . . . ." Id. at 8322. Two actors are jointly liable for an injury if their conduct "causes a single harm which cannot be apportioned . . . even though [the actors] may have acted independently." Capone v. Donovan, 332 Pa. Super. 185, 189, 480 A.2d 1249, 1251 (1984).
Under the Act, joint tortfeasors are entitled to contribution if they have paid more than their pro rata share of this common liability. 42 Pa.C.S.A. § 8324(b). Contribution is obtainable even if the two defendants are held liable based upon different theories of recovery. Svetz For Svetz v. Land Tool Co., 355 Pa. Super. 230, 238, 513 A.2d 403, 407 (1986); Rabatin v. Columbus Lines, Inc., 790 F.2d 22, 25 (3d Cir.1986).
In Svetz, a trustee ad litem sued in strict liability for damages arising from a fatal motorcycle accident on behalf of a decedent, alleging that a defective helmet had caused the death. The defendant-manufacturer joined as an additional defendant, the tavernkeeper who had allegedly served alcohol to the decedent prior to the accident, seeking contribution based upon negligence. The trial court dismissed the complaint for contribution, ruling that such a claim does not lie if the theory of recovery differs from the underlying theory of the case. The Superior Court reversed, holding that a defendant held liable based upon strict liability may be entitled to contribution from a negligent third party. The court stated that "the doctrine of contribution is based on equity. Therefore, the Act must be examined with equity in mind." Svetz, 355 Pa. Super. at 237, 513 A.2d at 407. The court then stated: "It matters not on which theory a tortfeasor has been held responsible ...