Knell v. Feltman

United States Court of Appeals, District of Columbia, 1949.

85 U.S.App.D.C. 22, 174 F.2d 662.

Prosser, pp. 378-380


Facts: Knell was driving a car and got into an accident with a taxi owned by Feltman.  Knell’s passengers sued Feltman for negligence, and Feltman in turn sued Knell, saying that his negligence caused the accident.  The jury awarded damages to Knell’s passengers, and then awarded Feltman half of those damages from Knell.  Knell appealed on the basis that his passengers never tried to get a judgment against him.


Issue: Shall Feltman be denied contribution from Knell because Knell wasn’t a target of the plaintiffs’ litigation?


Rule: NEW RULE (at least for D.C.)!  There doesn’t need to be a joint judgment against two people who are negligent in order to enforce contribution.  (There is no contribution between intentional tortfeasors, though.)


Analysis: The court says that the right to get contribution lies with the person who has been forced to pay.  In this case, that’s Feltman.  The plaintiff has no right to decide who should pay for a wrong.  Otherwise, the plaintiff might sue one person and not another just because they like them less as opposed to because they factually were more responsible for the harm done.


There used to be a rule that there was no contribution between joint or concurrent tortfeasors, but this court finds that rule to be wrong all along.


Conclusion: The judgment of the trial court is affirmed.


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