Here is the not-all-that-uncommon scenario: a patient receives medical treatment from two different healthcare providers, one in Pennsylvania and one in New Jersey, and sustains injuries which allegedly stemmed from negligent care on the part of both providers. As I previously reported in this Blog, healthcare providers located in New Jersey and providing treatment in New Jersey generally cannot be sued in Pennsylvania. In Witman v. Wilson, the plaintiff was faced with this exact dilemma and, therefore, sued the New Jersey provider in New Jersey and the Pennsylvania provider in Pennsylvania in two separate suits. The New Jersey case settled first. Subsequently, the defendant doctor in the Pennsylvania suit argued to the Court that he should be entitled to a set-off or reduction in any verdict entered against him in his case equal to the amount of the settlement in the New Jersey case.
Under Pennsylvania law, two or more defendants are deemed “joint tortfeasors” when the negligence of both/all of them contributed to causing the plaintiff’s injury. Under such circumstances, a jury can apportion liability on a percentage basis between or among of the joint tortfeasor defendants. Defendants found less than 60% responsible for the injury are only liable for their proportionate share of the verdict. But what happens when joint tortfeasors are sued in separate actions in separate states?
That was the scenario in Witman v. Wilson. There, the Pennsylvania Court of Common Pleas (Northumberland County) ruled that the defendant doctor in the Pennsylvania matter may be entitled to a set-off of any amount recovered by the plaintiff in the settlement with the defendant in the New Jersey case because the defendants would be joint tortfeasors. The defendant in the Pennsylvania case requested to review the settlement agreement from the New Jersey case, which was intended to be confidential. The judge ruled that he would be able to do so, however, only if and when a jury found him negligent, as a set-off determination would not become relevant until that point.