American Motorcycle Assn. v. Superior Court

Decision Date09 February 1978
Citation20 Cal.3d 578,146 Cal.Rptr. 182
CourtCalifornia Supreme Court
Parties, 578 P.2d 899 AMERICAN MOTORCYCLE ASSOCIATION, Petitioner, v. The SUPERIOR COURT OF LOS ANGELES COUNTY, Respondent; VIKING MOTORCYCLE CLUB et al., Real Parties in Interest. L.A. 30737

Lawler, Felix & Hall, Thomas E. Workman, Jr., Erwin E. Adler and Jane H. Barrett, Los Angeles, for petitioner.

John W. Baker, Los Angeles, Caywood J. Borror, San Bernardino, Francis Breidenbach, Richard E. Goethals, Stephen J. Grogan, Henry E. Kappler, Los Angeles, Kenneth L. Moes, Santa Barbara, W. F. Rylaarsdam, Pasadena, and Lucien A. Van Hulle, San Bernardino, as amici curiae on behalf of petitioner.

No appearance for respondent.

Jack A. Rose, Anaheim, for real parties in interest.

William P. Camusi, Los Angeles, Robert E. Cartwright, San Francisco, Edward I. Pollock, Los Angeles, Wylie A. Aitken, Santa Ana, Leonard Sacks, Encino, Leroy Hersh, David B. Baum, San Francisco, Stephen I. Zetterberg, Claremont, Robert G. Beloud, Upland, Ned Good, Los Angeles, Arne Werchick, San Francisco, Sanford M. Gage, Beverly Hills, Joseph Posner, Los Angeles, Herbert Hafif, Claremont, and William B. Boone, Santa Rosa, as amici curiae on behalf of real parties in interest.

TOBRINER, Justice.

Three years ago, in Li v. Yellow Cab Co. (1975) 13 Cal.3d 804, 119 Cal.Rptr. 858, 532 P.2d 1226, we concluded that the harsh and much criticized contributory negligence doctrine, which totally barred an injured person from recovering damages whenever his own negligence had contributed in any degree to the injury, should be replaced in this state by a rule of comparative negligence, under which an injured individual's recovery is simply proportionately diminished, rather than completely eliminated, when he is partially responsible for the injury. In reaching the conclusion to adopt comparative negligence in Li, we explicitly recognized that our innovation inevitably raised numerous collateral issues, "(t)he most serious (of which) are those attendant upon the administration of a rule of comparative negligence in cases involving multiple parties." (13 Cal.3d at p. 823, 119 Cal.Rptr. at p. 87, 532 P.2d at p. 1239.) Because the Li litigation itself involved only a single plaintiff and a single defendant, however, we concluded that it was "neither necessary nor wise" (13 Cal.3d at p. 826, 119 Cal.Rptr. 858, 532 P.2d 1226) to address such multiple party questions at that juncture, and we accordingly postponed consideration of such questions until a case directly presenting such issues came before our court. The present mandamus proceeding presents such a case, and requires us to resolve a number of the thorny multiple party problems to which Li adverted.

For the reasons explained below, we have reached the following conclusions with respect to the multiple party issues presented by this case. First, we conclude that our adoption of comparative negligence to ameliorate the inequitable consequences of the contributory negligence rule does not warrant the abolition or contraction of the established "joint and several liability" doctrine; each tortfeasor whose negligence is a proximate cause of an indivisible injury remains individually liable for all compensable damages attributable to that injury. Contrary to petitioner's contention, we conclude that joint and several liability does not logically conflict with a comparative negligence regime. Indeed, as we point out, the great majority of jurisdictions which have adopted comparative negligence have retained the joint and several liability rule; we are aware of no judicial decision which intimates that the adoption of comparative negligence compels the abandonment of this long-standing common law rule. The joint and several liability doctrine continues, after Li, to play an important and legitimate role in protecting the ability of a negligently injured person to obtain adequate compensation for his injuries from those tortfeasors who have negligently inflicted the harm.

Second, although we have determined that Li does not mandate a diminution of the rights of injured persons through the elimination of the joint and several liability rule, we conclude that the general principles embodied in Li do warrant a reevaluation of the common law equitable indemnity doctrine, which relates to the allocation of loss among multiple tortfeasors. As we explain, California decisions have long invoked the equitable indemnity doctrine in numerous situations to permit a "passively" or "secondarily" negligent tortfeasor to shift his liability completely to a more directly culpable party. While the doctrine has frequently prevented a more culpable tortfeasor from completely escaping liability, the rule has fallen short of its equitable heritage because, like the discarded contributory negligence doctrine, it has worked in an "all-or-nothing" fashion, imposing liability on the more culpable tortfeasor only at the price of removing liability altogether from another responsible, albeit less culpable, party.

Prior to Li, of course, the notion of apportioning liability on the basis of comparative fault was completely alien to California common law. In light of Li, however, we think that the long-recognized common law equitable indemnity doctrine should be modified to permit, in appropriate cases, a right of partial indemnity, under which liability among multiple tortfeasors may be apportioned on a comparative negligence basis. As we explain, many jurisdictions which have adopted comparative negligence have embraced similar comparative contribution or comparative indemnity systems by judicial decision. Such a doctrine conforms to Li 's objective of establishing "a system under which liability for damage will be borne by those whose negligence caused it in direct proportion to their respective fault." (13 Cal.3d at p. 813, 119 Cal.Rptr. at p. 864, 532 P.2d at p. 1232.)

Third, we conclude that California's current contribution statutes do not preclude our court from evolving this common law right of comparative indemnity. In Dole v. Dow Chemical Company (1972) 30 N.Y.2d 143, 331 N.Y.S.2d 382, 282 N.E.2d 288, the New York Court of Appeals recognized a similar, common law partial indemnity doctrine at a time when New York had a contribution statute which paralleled California's present legislation. Moreover, the California contribution statute, by its own terms, expressly subordinates its provisions to common law indemnity rules; since the comparative indemnity rule we recognize today is simply an evolutionary development of the common law equitable indemnity doctrine, the primacy of such right of indemnity is expressly recognized by the statutory provisions. In addition, the equitable nature of the comparative indemnity doctrine does not thwart, but enhances, the basic objective of the contribution statute, furthering an equitable distribution of loss among multiple tortfeasors.

Fourth, and finally, we explain that under the governing provisions of the Code of Civil Procedure, a named defendant is authorized to file a cross-complaint against any person, whether already a party to the action or not, from whom the named defendant seeks to obtain total or partial indemnity. Although the trial court retains the authority to postpone the trial of the indemnity question if it believes such action is appropriate to avoid unduly complicating the plaintiff's suit, the court may not preclude the filing of such a cross-complaint altogether.

In light of these determinations, we conclude that a writ of mandate should issue, directing the trial court to permit petitioner-defendant to file a cross-complaint for partial indemnity against previously unjoined alleged concurrent tortfeasors.

1. The facts.

In the underlying action in this case, plaintiff Glen Gregos, a teenage boy, seeks to recover damages for serious injuries which he incurred while participating in a cross-country motorcycle race for novices. Glen's second amended complaint alleges, in relevant part, that defendants American Motorcycle Association (AMA) and the Viking Motorcycle Club (Viking) the organizations that sponsored and collected the entry fee for the race negligently designed, managed, supervised and administered the race, and negligently solicited the entrants for the race. The second amended complaint further alleges that as a direct and proximate cause of such negligence, Glen suffered a crushing of his spine, resulting in the permanent loss of the use of his legs and his permanent inability to perform sexual functions. Although the negligence count of the complaint does not identify the specific acts or omissions of which plaintiff complains, additional allegations in the complaint assert, inter alia, that defendants failed to give the novice participants reasonable instructions that were necessary for their safety, failed to segregate the entrants into reasonable classes of equivalently skilled participants, and failed to limit the entry of participants to prevent the racecourse from becoming overcrowded and hazardous. 1

AMA filed an answer to the complaint, denying the charging allegations and asserting a number of affirmative defenses, including a claim that Glen's own negligence was a proximate cause of his injuries. Thereafter, AMA sought leave of court to file a cross-complaint, which purported to state two causes of action against Glen's parents. The first cause of action alleges that at all relevant times Glen's parents (1) knew that motorcycle racing is a dangerous sport, (2) were "knowledgeable and fully cognizant" of the training and instruction which Glen had received on the handling and operation of his motorcycle, and (3) directly participated in Glen's decision to enter the race by signing a parental consent form. This initial cause of action asserts that in permitting Glen's entry into the race, his...

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