Landers v. East Texas Salt Water Disposal Co.
151 Tex. 251, 248 S.W.2d 731 (1952)
- Landers owned a lake that he kept full of fish. A pipeline owned by East Texas ruptured and saltwater flowed into the lake, poisoning the fish (and causing other damages).
- At the same time, a different pipeline owned by Sun Oil Company ruptured and more saltwater and oil entered Landers’ lake.
- Landers sued both East Texas and Sun Oil for negligence.
- Landers argued that the two defendants were jointly and severally liable for the damages.
- Landers argued that it was not possible to determine which spill caused what damage, so both East Texas and Sun Oil had to pay to fix the damage.
- East Texas and Sun Oil argued that they were only responsible for the damages they individually caused. Since it was not possible to prove whose saltwater killed which fish, neither of them should pay to fix the damages.
- In the case of Sun Oil Co. v. Robicheaux (Tex. Com. App., 23 S.W.2d 713), it was held that when two defendants both take independent actions that result in damage then each defendant is only responsible for the damages which directly and proximately result from their act.
- The fact that it is difficult (or impossible) to define who caused what damage does not change the rule.
- Basically, under Robicheaux, it would be impossible for Landers to recover any damages, since he could not meet the burden of proof for determining which pipe rupture killed which fish.
- The Appellate Court found for Landers.
- The Appellate court decided to overrule Robicheaux since it was inherently unfair.
- The Court created a new rule that, where tortuous acts of two or more wrongdoers join to produce an indivisible injury (an injury which cannot be apportioned with reasonable certainty to the individual wrongdoers), all of the wrongdoers will be held jointly and severally liable for the entire damages and the injured party may proceed to judgment against any one separately or against all in one suit.
- The Court also ruled that if there is a segment of the damage that can be attributed to a single tortfeasor, then that liability is borne solely by them.
- Basically, this case said that if two or more people all contribute to some damage, and you can’t determine who caused what damage, then the plaintiff can sue any of them and make that defendant pay all of the damages. Or they can sue all the defendants and the court can try to split the damages by some kind of equitable formula.
- Under the theory of joint and several liability, a plaintiff can sue any one defendant and make them pay up to 100% of the damages. That defendant can then turn around and sue the other defendants, and can potentially get them to pay back some of what he had to pay the plaintiff.
- Note that no matter how many defendants there are, the plaintiff can never get more than 100% of the total damages. If they receive 100% from the first defendant, they can’t then go sue the second defendant to get more money.