Reese v. Werts Corp., No. 85-80

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Iowa
Writing for the CourtConsidered by REYNOLDSON; McCORMICK
PartiesCecil REESE, Appellant, v. WERTS CORPORATION, Cross-Appellant. WERTS CORPORATION, Cross-Appellant, v. BLOOMFIELD MANOR, INC., ABCM Corporation, and Dan Schwieger, Appellees.
Decision Date18 December 1985
Docket NumberNo. 85-80

Page 1

379 N.W.2d 1
Cecil REESE, Appellant,
v.
WERTS CORPORATION, Cross-Appellant.
WERTS CORPORATION, Cross-Appellant,
v.
BLOOMFIELD MANOR, INC., ABCM Corporation, and Dan Schwieger, Appellees.
No. 85-80.
Supreme Court of Iowa.
Dec. 18, 1985.
Rehearings Denied Jan. 10, 1986.

R. Ronald Pogge of Hopkins & Huebner, P.C., Des Moines, and James W. McGrath of McGrath & McGrath, P.C., Keosauqua, for appellant.

M.H. Pothoven and Randall C. Stravers of Clements, Blomgren & Pothoven, Oskaloosa, for cross-appellant.

Bruce G. Kelley of Bradshaw, Fowler, Proctor & Fairgrave, Des Moines, for appellee Bloomfield Manor, Inc.

Richard C. Bauerle of Johnson, Bauerle, Hester & Walter, Ottumwa, for appellees ABCM Corp. and Schwieger.

Considered by REYNOLDSON, C.J., and McCORMICK, McGIVERIN, LARSON and SCHULTZ, JJ.

Page 2

McCORMICK, Justice.

This appeal presents a problem concerning the law of joint and several liability in a negligence case filed before July 1, 1984, but tried after that date. We must decide what the legislature intended when it provided that Iowa Code section 668.4 "applies to all cases tried on or after July 1, 1984." See 1984 Iowa Acts ch. 1293, § 15. We conclude that, except for the fact negligence rather than fault is to be compared, the legislature intended the law of joint and several liability to be applied in the same way to this case as it will be applied to comparative fault cases filed after July 1, 1984. Because the trial court erred in not applying the statute in that manner in the present case, we reverse and remand on plaintiff's appeal. We dismiss the cross-appeal as moot.

Plaintiff Cecil Reese suffered serious injuries on January 29, 1981, when a freight elevator in which she was riding fell from the first floor to the basement of a nursing home where she worked. She brought this action in 1983 against defendant Werts Corporation, which had installed the elevator in 1967. Insofar as relevant here, plaintiff's claim was based wholly on Werts' alleged negligence.

Werts answered, denying material allegations of plaintiff's petition and raising defenses including plaintiff's contributory negligence. Later, on February 27, 1983, Werts cross-petitioned against third-party defendants Bloomfield Nursing Home, Inc., Bloomfield Manor, Inc., and ABCM Corporation, seeking contribution and indemnity on various theories. Bloomfield Nursing Home, Inc., which built the nursing home and subsequently sold it to Bloomfield Manor, Inc., obtained a favorable summary judgment and is not a party to the appeal. Bloomfield Manor, Inc., (hereinafter "Bloomfield") was plaintiff's employer. ABCM Corporation owned Bloomfield and furnished its employee Dan Schwieger to Bloomfield as administrator of the nursing home. Schwieger was subsequently added as a third-party defendant and for liability purposes is identified with ABCM. Thus the cross-petition essentially sought recovery against plaintiff's employer and the third-party management.

Bloomfield moved for summary judgment on the ground no basis existed for Werts' claim against it for contribution or indemnity. The trial court sustained the motion in part, holding that contribution was barred by the common liability rule but that indemnity was possible based upon an independent statutory duty running between Bloomfield and Werts.

The case was tried after July 1, 1984. During the course of trial plaintiff asked leave to amend her petition to join ABCM as a defendant. ABCM resisted on statute of limitations and timeliness grounds, and the court overruled the motion.

The case was submitted on special verdicts in which the jury was asked to decide whether and to what extent each party was causally negligent, with the liability of ABCM and Schwieger considered as one. The jury was also asked to determine plaintiff's damages. The jury found each party causally negligent and determined the percentages as follows: plaintiff, 5 percent; Werts, 15 percent; Bloomfield, 20 percent; ABCM and Schwieger, 60 percent. Plaintiff's damages were determined to be $100,000.

Plaintiff moved that the court enter judgment in her favor against Werts for $95,000. Instead the court entered judgment for plaintiff against Werts for $15,000. The court entered no judgment on the cross-petition and separately overruled plaintiff's motion for new trial. Plaintiff appealed, and Werts cross-appealed.

Reversal is sought on several grounds. One of them requires reversal and remand for new trial. We address other issues that are likely to arise on retrial.

I. Instructional error. In accordance with 1984 Iowa Acts ch. 1293, § 15, the trial court applied its understanding of Iowa Code section 668.4 in this case. That section provides:

In actions brought under this chapter, the rule of joint and several liability shall

Page 3

not apply to defendants who are found to bear less than fifty percent of the total fault assigned to all parties.

The trial court interpreted the provision as barring joint and several liability in the present case. This is because defendant Werts was found by the jury to bear less than fifty percent of the negligence assigned to parties as the term "party" is defined in section 668.2. We approved using the section 668.2 definition in Baldwin v. City of Waterloo, 372 N.W.2d 486, 491-93 (Iowa 1985).

Plaintiff contends that the court misled the jury in its instructions on the effect on the special verdicts. In one instruction the court said:

The law provides that if a person who has sustained damages is negligent, such negligence will not bar recovery; rather, the recovery shall be reduced in the proportion or percentage that such negligence bears to the total negligence that proximately caused the damage.

In another instruction the court said:

[I]f the plaintiff ... has established by a preponderance of the evidence that defendant Werts Corporation was negligent and said negligence was a proximate cause of plaintiff's injury or damage, then you must determine what percentage of their combined negligence is attributable to defendant Werts Corporation in accordance with the special verdict submitted with these instructions. The percentage attributed to the plaintiff will be used by the court to reduce the amount of damages which you find plaintiff has sustained....

These instructions correctly state the law as it existed under Goetzman v. Wichern, 327 N.W.2d 742 (Iowa 1982), and Rosevink v. Faris, 342 N.W.2d 845 (Iowa 1983), but they do not take into account the effect of section 668.4.

Plaintiff made timely objection to the instructions on this ground, and the objection was overruled. When the ground was urged again in plaintiff's motion for new trial, the court rejected it again. The court reasoned that an instruction on the effect of its special verdicts would invite the jury to manipulate its responses to control plaintiff's recovery and would in any event not be required even if...

To continue reading

Request your trial
23 practice notes
  • Lee v. Small, No. C 10-4034-MWB
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Northern District of Iowa
    • November 22, 2011
    ...the question of when a party's fault must be included in the total aggregate fault, as follows:We established in Reese [v. Werts Corp., 379 N.W.2d 1 (Iowa 1985),] that in determining the apportionment of fault among parties and released parties pursuant to section 668.3(2)(b) only parties "......
  • Lee v. Small, No. C 10–4034–MWB.
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Northern District of Iowa
    • November 22, 2011
    ...the question of when a party's fault must be included in the total aggregate fault, as follows: We established in Reese [ v. Werts Corp., 379 N.W.2d 1 (Iowa 1985),] that in determining the apportionment of fault among parties and released parties pursuant to section 668.3(2)(b) only parties......
  • Subcliff v. Brandt Engineered Products, Ltd., No. 3:05-cv-00001-RAW.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 8th Circuit. United States State District Court of Southern District of Iowa
    • October 3, 2006
    ...employer resulting from a work-related injury to an employee is barred for lack of common liability to the employee. Reese v. Werts Corp., 379 N.W.2d 1, 5 (Iowa Brandt responds IPSCO is not entitled to summary judgment on the basis of the immunity afforded by the workers' compensation law b......
  • Spaur v. Owens-Corning Fiberglas Corp., OWENS-CORNING
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Iowa
    • January 19, 1994
    ...1992); see also Schwennen v. Abell, 430 N.W.2d 98, 102-03 (Iowa 1988) (loss of consortium claim between spouses); Reese v. Werts Corp., 379 N.W.2d 1, 6 (Iowa 1985) (workers' compensation). Because the presence of a third-party defendant who has a special defense to plaintiff's claim may "si......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
23 cases
  • Lee v. Small, No. C 10-4034-MWB
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Northern District of Iowa
    • November 22, 2011
    ...the question of when a party's fault must be included in the total aggregate fault, as follows:We established in Reese [v. Werts Corp., 379 N.W.2d 1 (Iowa 1985),] that in determining the apportionment of fault among parties and released parties pursuant to section 668.3(2)(b) only parties "......
  • Lee v. Small, No. C 10–4034–MWB.
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Northern District of Iowa
    • November 22, 2011
    ...the question of when a party's fault must be included in the total aggregate fault, as follows: We established in Reese [ v. Werts Corp., 379 N.W.2d 1 (Iowa 1985),] that in determining the apportionment of fault among parties and released parties pursuant to section 668.3(2)(b) only parties......
  • Subcliff v. Brandt Engineered Products, Ltd., No. 3:05-cv-00001-RAW.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 8th Circuit. United States State District Court of Southern District of Iowa
    • October 3, 2006
    ...employer resulting from a work-related injury to an employee is barred for lack of common liability to the employee. Reese v. Werts Corp., 379 N.W.2d 1, 5 (Iowa Brandt responds IPSCO is not entitled to summary judgment on the basis of the immunity afforded by the workers' compensation law b......
  • Spaur v. Owens-Corning Fiberglas Corp., OWENS-CORNING
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Iowa
    • January 19, 1994
    ...1992); see also Schwennen v. Abell, 430 N.W.2d 98, 102-03 (Iowa 1988) (loss of consortium claim between spouses); Reese v. Werts Corp., 379 N.W.2d 1, 6 (Iowa 1985) (workers' compensation). Because the presence of a third-party defendant who has a special defense to plaintiff's claim may "si......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT