American Motorcycle Association v. Superior Court

20 Cal. 3d 578 (1978).

This seminal case is the first where a court adopted comparative fault theory for apportionment of liability among multiple tortfeasors.

The facts of the case are as follows:

Plaintiff, a teenage boy, sustained serious physical injuries while participating in a cross-country motorcycle race for novices.  Plaintiff brought a lawsuit against American Motorcycle Association (“AMA”) and the Viking Motorcycle Club (“Viking”) – the organizations that sponsored and collected the entry fee for the race.  Plaintiff alleged that both defendants were negligent in designing, managing, supervising and administering the race and were further negligent in soliciting the entrants for the race.

AMA answered the complaint and further sought leave of court to file a counterclaim against Plaintiff’s parents.  AMA claimed that while its conduct could be described as “passively negligently,” Plaintiff’s parents’ conduct was “actively negligent.”  Thus, AMA sought indemnity from Plaintiff’s parents in case it was found liable.  AMA also sought for declaratory relief of “allocation of negligence” – i.e., a declaration that the damages awarded against AMA, if any, may be reduced by the percentage of damages allocable to cross-defendants’ negligence.

The issue facing the Supreme Court of California was whether doctrine of equitable indemnity permits a concurrent tortfeasor (here, AMA) to obtain partial indemnity from a other concurrent tortfeasors (here, the parents) based on a comparative fault analysis.  The Court ruled in the affirmative.

The Court held that under the common law equitable indemnity doctrine, a concurrent tortfeasor may obtain partial indemnity from cotortfeasors on a comparative fault basis.  Under California Code of Civil Procedure Section 428.10, “[a] party against whom a cause of action has been asserted in a complaint or cross-complaint may file a cross-complaint” against a previously unnamed party.  The Court reasoned that the interaction of partial indemnity doctrine with the cross-complaint provision of CCP § 428.10 did not provide any undue prejudice to the rights of plaintiffs.

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