X lives in a house along a curve in a rural highway. Because there are no streetlights, the area around X’s house is completely dark at night. X’s mailbox is placed at the edge of the road. The mail carrier can reach X’s mailbox without getting out of the mail truck. The highway is constructed with no shoulder on either side. Consequently, X must stand in the highway to retrieve the mail.
One night, Y is driving a new car along the highway, accompanied by Y’s friend, Z, in the passenger’s seat. Y says to Z, “Watch what this thing can do,” and accelerates past the posted speed limit. In response, Z says, “Yeah, this is awesome! Faster!” Y accelerates, and continues to drive at excessive speed.
At the same time, X goes to retrieve the mail. Without looking for traffic, X steps into the highway in front of the mailbox. X is dressed in dark clothing, and is not carrying a flashlight. The speed limit on this section of the highway is 45 miles per hour. Y rounds the curve at 70 miles per hour and injures X.
X files a single personal-injury suit, naming both Y and Z as defendants. At trial, the evidence shows the facts as set out above. In addition, Y admits that he would have been speeding regardless of Z’s encouragement. At the close of the evidence, Z moves to be dismissed from the case as a matter of law, arguing that because Y was driving, Z should have no liability. The court rules against Z.
The relevant jurisdiction follows the rule of comparative negligence. The jurisdiction also has the following statute regarding damages:
Damages: Where multiple defendants are found liable in tort, each defendant’s share of the damages will be the plaintiff’s total damages multiplied by that tortfeasor’s share of the overall liability; provided, however, that if any tortfeasor is unable to pay the judgment due to insolvency, the remaining tortfeasors shall pay the defaulting tortfeasor’s share of the damages, such share to be reduced by the percentage of negligence attributable to the plaintiff.
The jury finds that X was 20 percent negligent, Y was 50 percent negligent, and Z was 30 percent negligent. The jury also finds that X’s total damages, not adjusted for comparative negligence, are $100,000. The judge enters judgment on the verdict.
Neither Y nor Z files an appeal. Before X can collect from Y or from Z, Z becomes insolvent, and is unable to pay anything to X.
- Was Z a joint tortfeasor with Y? Explain.
- Applying the damages statute, in what amounts will damages be allocated as to Y and Z, respectively? Explain, applying the statute both before and after Z’s insolvency.