Plaintiff Newinksi worked for Northern States Power (NSP) during which time he worked with Defendant Crane’s abestos-containing products, which, he alleged, caused his mesothelioma. Newinski also dealt with asbestos-containing products from other manufacturers, but less so.
The case involved three defendants and four other potential suppliers of harmful asbestos-containing products that may have contributed to Plaintiff’s injury.
The jury found in favor of Plaintiff, awarded about $4.6 million, apportioning fault as follows: Defendant Crane 55% at fault, the two other defendants (who had settled) 20% at fault (10% each), and the remaining fault (25%) distributed among the four additional entities who were not named in the suit.
Should Crane have to pay 100% of the verdict? 55% (amount of fault)? 35% (amount of fault, less amount of fault assigned to other named parties)? 80% (amount of fault, less amount to other named parties, plus amount attributed to unnamed entities)? The answer is 80% and the explanation lies in how Pierringer releases work and when reallocation applies, Minn. Stat. 604.02. The Minnesota Court of Appeals pointed out that, with joint and several liability, each defendant is liable for a plaintiff’s total recoverable damages even when a jury finds a defendant only partially at fault. The Pierringer release lowers the non-settling defendant’s liability to the extent of the comparative fault of the Pierringer settlors. The trial court, the Court of Appeals held, was wrong to “reallocate” fault from non-party entities to the non-settling defendant but, in the absence of reallocation, Crane still has to foot the bill due to joint and several liability.