21 October 2013

Controversial Court Decisions: Walt Disney World v. Wood

This is one in a series of posts designed to describe controversial, notorious, infamous, and outrageous court decisions. For similar posts, click here.

Case: Walt Disney World v. Wood, 515 So. 2d 198 (Fla. 1987).

Facts: Aloysia Wood was injured in November 1971 at the grand prix attraction at Walt Disney World (Disney), when her fiance (and later husband) Daniel Wood, rammed from the rear the vehicle which she was driving. Aloysia Wood filed suit against Disney, and Disney sought contribution from Daniel Wood. Disney's contribution claim alleged that Daniel, who was not a party in the original suit, was at least partially liable for the injuries to Aloysia.

Trial Court: The jury returned a verdict finding Aloysia Wood 14% at fault, Daniel Wood 85% at fault, and Disney 1% at fault (for more information about apportioning fault via comparative negligence, see here). The jury assessed Wood's damages at $75,000. Because Daniel Wood was judgment proof (basically, financially insolvent), and because of the concept of joint and several liability, the court entered judgment against Disney for 86% of the damages.

Appellate Courts: The Fourth District Court of Appeal and the Florida Supreme Court affirmed the judgment.

Why It's Controversial: Despite a finding from the jury that the Woods were a combined  99% at fault (Aloysia 14% and Daniel 85%), Aloysia Wood received 86% of the damages: Disney's liability (1%), and Daniel's liability (85%, also paid by Disney). Because Disney was partially responsible (if only 1%), joint and several liability provided that Aloysia Wood could recover the entire amount of damages ($75,000), minus her liability (14%, or $10,500), from Disney. The Woods enriched themselves on their own negligence. Approximately 15 states follow the rule that defendants are joint and severally liable, even under a comparative negligence regime.
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