Tort Law

Editor:
Keith A. Cutler, Esquire

Automobile tort defendant not entitled to a reduction of judgment amount under Section 537.060 for settlement paid by doctor on malpractice claim for treating injuries arising out the same accident.  Gibson v. City of St. Louis, et al., No. 95949 (Mo. App. E.D., September 20, 2011), Crane, J.

Plaintiff was involved in a one-car automobile accident caused by ice on the roadway; Plaintiff sustained a broken leg in the accident .  She filed suit against the City of St. Louis, claiming that the ice formed on the roadway due to a broken water main or fire hydrant owned by the City .  Plaintiff also filed a medical malpractice lawsuit against the hospitals where she was treated, alleging that her right femur was negligently rotated during her treatment . Plaintiff settled her suit against the hospitals for $80,000 .  Subsequently, a jury rendered a verdict in favor of Plaintiff and against the City of St. Louis in the net amount of $63,000 .  Defendant City of St. Louis filed a motion to apply set-off pursuant to Section 537.060.  (The court’s opinion made a note to clarify that, technically, it is a “reduction” and not a “set-off.”)    The trial court denied the motion, and the City of St. Louis appealed .

Held
: Affirmed.  Section 537.060 requires that two or more tortfeasors be liable for the same injury before a reduction can be applied.  The court of appeals determined that, here, the City of St. Louis and the hospitals were not liable for the “same injury.”   The City of St. Louis was liable for both the injury it initially caused to Plaintiff, and for any subsequent injury flowing from the medical malpractice for treatment of that injury. The hospitals, however, were not liable for both injuries. The hospitals were only liable for the negligent rotation of the femur, not for the initial injury caused by the accident. Since the hospitals were not liable for Plaintiff’s initial injury from the accident, the hospitals and the City of St. Louis were not “joint tortfeasors” liable for the “same injury.”  Therefore, the trial court did not err in refusing to apply a reduction of the judgment under Section 537.060.