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Richards v. Badger Mutual Insurance Co.

Wisconsin Supreme Court
749 N.W.2d 581 (2008)


Facts

David Schrimpf (defendant) and Robert Zimmerlee wanted to get some beer. They were too young to purchase beer legally, so Schrimpf enlisted the help of a older coworker, Tomakia Pratchet. Zimmerlee, Schrimpf, and Pratchet drove to a grocery store. Zimmerlee gave Pratchet money, and Pratchet purchased an 18-pack of beer. Later that night, Zimmerlee and Schrimpf brought the beer to a party. Zimmerlee drank about half the beer that they had brought with them. Zimmerlee and Schrimpf left the party in Zimmerlee’s car. Zimmerlee drove only half a block before running a stop sign and hitting a car driven by Chris Richards, killing Richards instantly. Richards’ wife, Michelle Richards (plaintiff) first sued Zimmerlee. After settling with Zimmerlee, she sued Schrimpf and his insurer, Badger Mutual insurance Co. (Badger) (defendant), for wrongful death. Schrimpf joined Pratchet in the suit. The parties to this suit entered into a settlement agreement that apportioned causal negligence to Zimmerlee, Schrimpf, and Pratchet at 72 percent, 14 percent, and 14 percent, respectively. The settlement agreement additionally stipulated that Schrimpf and Pratchet together caused $500,000 in damages, or $250,000 each. The agreement left the judge to determine whether Schrimpf and Pratchet were jointly and severally liable for the $500,000 in damages. Under Wisconsin statute § 895.04, joint tortfeasors whose causal negligence is less than 50 percent were not subject to joint and several liability unless the parties acted in accordance with a common scheme or plan. The trial court held that Schrimpf and Pratchet acted in accordance with a common scheme or plan that injured Chris Richards, making Schrimpf jointly and severally liable for $500,000 in damages. Schrimpf and Badger appealed. On appeal, Schrimpf argued that although he, Pratchet, and Zimmerlee had an agreement to purchase alcohol, they did not have a plan or agreement to drive while intoxicated. The reckless driving killed Chris Richards, not the plan to buy alcohol. Michelle Richards argued that but for the plan to illegally obtain alcohol, Zimmerlee would not have killed her husband. The court of appeals agreed with Schrimpf, holding that Schrimpf was not jointly and severally liable for the damages that he and Pratchet collectively caused Michelle Richards. Michelle Richards appealed.

Rule of Law

Issue

Holding and Reasoning (Roggensack, J.)

Dissent (Abrahamson, C.J.)

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