Knell v. Feltman Case Brief

Summary of Knell v. Feltman, U. S. Ct. App [1949]

Contribution and Indemnity

Relevant Facts: Mr and Mrs. Langland were guest passengers in an automobile owned and operated by Knell in D.C. The car collided with a taxi owned by Feltman and operated by his employee. Mrs. Feltman was seriously injured as result.

Legal Issue(s): Whether contribution between concurrent tortfeasors can be enforced only if both are judgment debtors of the Pl and whether one or both are required to be personally negligent?

Court’s Holding: No, and immaterial.

Procedure: Jury found that both Feltman’s servant and Knell were negligent, judgment Pl; Feltman filed 3rd party against Knell; then judgment for Feltman. Affirmed

Law or Rule(s): When the parties are not intentional and wilful wrongdoers, but are made so by legal inference or intendment, contribution may be enforced.

Court Rationale: Under Rule 14 (a) a Df may bring into the action another who may be liable to him for all or any part of the damages, even though the Pl does not seek a judgment against him. The appellant’s theory that there can be no contribution unless the Pl has first obtained a judgment against both wrongdoers is baseless for another reason. The right to seek contribution belongs to the tortfeasor who has been forced to pay, and the existence of the right cannot logically depend upon a selection of dfs made by the Pl. When a tort is committed by the concurrent negligence of two or more persons who are not intentional wrongdoers, contribution should be enforced; that joint judgment against such tortfeasor is not a prerequisite to contribution between them , and it is immaterial whether they were, or any of them was, personally negligent.

Plaintiff’s Argument: (Feltman) The collision was caused by the contributing or sole negligence of Knell.

Defendant’s Argument: (Knell) The right to contribution exists only between tortfeasors liable in common to the plaintiff; Knell’s liability to the Pl was not established by a judgment against him in favor of the pl. Knell’s and Feltman’s common liability to the Langlands was not established and therefor Feltman cannot have contribution from him.

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