Court Clarifies Rule on Segregation of Damages Caused by Intentional Tortfeasors

Rollins v. King County Metro Transit (Wash. Ct. App. Div. I, January 20, 2009)

The Washington Court of Appeals held this week that, in cases involving only defendants against whom negligence is alleged, the jury should not be instructed to determine and segregate damages caused by intentional tortfeasors.

In this case, two teenagers were attacked by unknown assailants on and near a bus operated by King County Metro. They sued Metro, alleging it negligently failed to protect them. The trial judge instructed the jury to award only damages proximately caused by Metro’s negligence and not to award damages caused solely by the unknown assailants. Metro unsuccessfully argued that under Tegman v. Accident & Medical Investigations, Inc., the jury must determine the claimants’ total damages and then segregate damages caused by intentional conduct from damages caused by negligence. The jury returned a verdict for the plaintiffs.

The court of appeals affirmed. Acknowledging “considerable confusion” in this area, the court determined the Tegman holding was inapplicable because it “is about joint and several liability.” Tegman involved multiple defendants whose conduct was negligent, intentional, or both, and the Washington Supreme Court held that “negligent defendants are jointly and severally liable only for the damages resulting from their negligence . . . [not] for damages caused by the intentional acts of others.” Distinguishing Tegman, the court of appeals observed: “Here, Metro is the only defendant and negligence is the plaintiffs’ only theory. To recover at all, plaintiffs had to prove their injuries were proximately caused by Metro’s negligence. There is no issue of joint and several liability in this case.”

This new decision limits the holding of Tegman to the circumstances in that case and removes the issue of damages caused by intentional conduct from any case where the intentional tortfeasor is not joined.