State Farm Insurance Companies v. Premier Manufactured Systems, Inc. – 12/3/2007

December 5, 2007

Arizona Supreme Court Holds That Liability Among Tortfeasors in Strict Products Liability Actions is Several Only.

In 2001, an insured of State Farm suffered real and personal property damage when their water filtration system leaked. After covering its insured’s loss, State Farm brought a strict products liability claim against Premier Manufactured Systems, Inc. (“Premier”), the assembler and retailer of the system, and Worldwide Water Distributing, Ltd (“Worldwide”), the manufacturer of a component part. State Farm moved for partial summary judgment, arguing that Premier and Worldwide were joint and severally liable for the homeowner’s damages. The superior court denied State Farm’s motion. A stipulated final judgment was subsequently entered, which apportioned fault between Premier and Worldwide, and reserved State Farm’s right to appeal the ruling eliminating joint and several liability. State Farm appealed, and the court of appeals affirmed, holding that pursuant to A.R.S. § 12-2506, liability was several only.

On appeal, the Arizona Supreme Court affirmed the Arizona Appeals Court’s decision. The Court explained that the 1987 amendments the Uniform Contribution Among Tortfeasors Act, codified at A.R.S. § 12-2506(A), created a system of comparative fault and abolished joint and several liability in all but certain enumerated circumstances. In the Court’s view, none of the enumerated exceptions are applicable to the instant case. State Farm argued that liability should be joint under A.R.S. § 12-2506(D)(2) because Premier served as the agent of Worldwide. The Court took a different view, stating that each entity in the chain of distribution of a defective product is liable for its own breach; thus, liability is not premised on the relationship between the entities. The Court also rejected State Farm’s arguments that A.R.S. §§ 12-2509 and 12-684 require joint and several liability in strict products liability actions.

The Court further held that interpreting A.R.S. § 12-2506 to preclude joint and several liability in a strict product liability action does not violate Article 18, Section 6 of the Arizona Constitution. By abolishing joint and several liability, the Legislature did not abrogate the right of action, nor did it statutorily limit the amount to be recovered.

Justice Hurwitz wrote the opinion for the unanimous Court.