In a unanimous opinion rendered on Thursday in J.B. Hunt Transport, Inc. v. Forrest General Hospital, the Mississippi Supreme Court ruled that an actively negligent tortfeasor may not seek indemnity from a subsequent negligent party. 

Facts

In 2006 Melissa Hall was injured in a motor-vehicle accident with a tractor-trailer operated by J.B. Hunt. She was transported to Forrest General Hospital, where she died five days after the accident.

J.B. Hunt settled with Hall’s estate and wrongful death beneficiaries and sued Forrest general for medical malpractice under a common law indemnity claim. Hunt claimed that the wrongful death was exclusively caused by Forrest General and not Hunt.

The trial court granted Forrest General’s motion for summary judgment.

Court’s Decision

The Court agreed with Forrest General’s argument that Hunt was a joint tortfeasor and that there is no right to indemnity between joint tortfeasors. Hunt’s argument was that while it was a joint tortfeasor in the original injuries, it was not a joint tortfeasor in the death. The Court disagreed and ruled that because Hunt was a joint tortfeasor, it could not recover under an indemnity theory. As a result, the Court affirmed the grant of summary judgment.  

Justice Lamar wrote the Court’s opinion. Mark Hodges with Wise Carter represented Forrest General and David Dunbar represented Hunt.

My Take

This was an interesting case involving an unusual fact pattern. I watched the oral argument in the case back in January and both sides and the Court did a good job of exploring the issue. Although the Court’s opinion was only eight pages, this is the kind of decision that could end up as a bar exam question.