How Do the Comparative Negligence Principles Affect Established Common Law Equitable Indemnity Doctrine ?
In American Motorcycle Assn. v. Superior Court (1978) 20 Cal. 3d 578, 582, 586-587, 590 146 Cal. Rptr. 182, 578 P.2d 899, the court was faced with the issue of how the recently implemented comparative negligence principles affected California's established common law equitable indemnity doctrine, which involved only the question of whether a loss should be completely shifted from one tortfeasor to another, rather than whether the loss should be shared between them. ( American Motorcycle, supra, 20 Cal. 3d at pp. 591-598.) In reviewing the historical application of the existing equitable indemnity doctrine, the court determined that "although California cases have steadfastly maintained that the equitable indemnity doctrine is founded on 'equitable considerations' . . ., the all-or-nothing aspect of the doctrine has precluded courts from reaching a just solution in the great majority of cases in which equity and fairness call for an apportionment of loss between the wrongdoers in proportion to their relative culpability, rather than the imposition of the entire loss upon one or the other tortfeasor." ( Id. at p. 595.)
It also recognized that the courts had encountered difficulties in framing an appropriate test "for determining when the relative culpability of the tortfeasors was sufficiently disparate to warrant placing the entire loss on one party and completely absolving the other." ( Id. at p. 594.)
Based in part on these considerations, the American Motorcycle court concluded that it was necessary to modify the equitable indemnity doctrine to permit a tortfeasor to obtain indemnity, on a comparative fault basis, from other concurrent tortfeasors. ( Id. at p. 591.)