Riggs v. Georgia Pacific

Date: February 24, 2012

Utah enacted the Liability Reform Act (LRA) in 1986. The LRA abolishes the common law rule of "joint and several liability", which had previously allowed a plaintiff to hold all defendants equally liable for an injury. Under the "joint and several liability" rule, a plaintiff could sue a company that was only 1% at fault, and could recover 100% of its damages from that defendant. The burden was then on that company to sue other defendants who might be more at fault. But, the LRA changed the law in Utah to make things more fair for defendants.

Now a question has arisen, in Riggs v. Georgia Pacific, over how the LRA should be interpreted. The plaintiff in this case was diagnosed with mesothelioma in 2007, but she argues that this illness was caused by exoposure to asbestos before the LRA was enacted. As such, the Supreme Court of Utah must now decide whether the old "joint and several liability" rule should apply in cases where the illness is diagnoses after 1986, but caused by exposure to toxins before 1986. Since most every asbestos case involves pre-1986 exposures, plaintiff’s theory would result in full joint and several liability being applied every time.  This would not only nullify the LRA in all Utah asbestos cases but would also result in full joint liability being applied in any other toxic tort case involving a product with a long latency period. As part of NFIB's legal reform efforts, we filed an amicus brief urging the Supreme Court to hold that the LRA applies in this case because she was diagnosed after its enactment.

Status: Pending - Utah Supreme Court.

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