Is Retroactive Proposition Which Limits Tortfeasor's Liability Legal ?
Evangelatos v. Superior Court (1988) concerned the retroactive application of a voter-approved proposition. the Supreme Court held that Proposition 51, which limited an individual joint tortfeasor's liability for noneconomic damages, could not be retroactively applied to a cause of action that accrued prior to the passage of the proposition.
As the court stated:
"California continues to adhere to the time-honored principle, codified by the Legislature in Civil Code section 3 and similar provisions, that in the absence of an express retroactivity provision, a statute will not be applied retroactively unless it is very clear from extrinsic sources that the Legislature or the voters must have intended a retroactive application." (Evangelatos, supra, at pp. 1208-1209.)
On this basis, the court reaffirmed the fundamental principle that there is a "presumption of prospectivity" applicable to every new legislative enactment "in the absence of a clear legislative intent to the contrary . . . ." (Id. at pp. 1193-1194, 1208, 1213-1214)
Western Security Bank v. Superior Court (1997) 15 Cal. 4th 232, 243 [62 Cal. Rptr. 2d 243, 933 P.2d 507];
Tapia v. Superior Court (1991) 53 Cal. 3d 282, 287 [279 Cal. Rptr. 592, 807 P.2d 434];
People v. Hayes (1989) 49 Cal. 3d 1260, 1274 [265 Cal. Rptr. 132, 783 P.2d 719];
Calfarm Ins. Co. v. Deukmejian (1989) 48 Cal. 3d 805, 827 [258 Cal. Rptr. 161, 771 P.2d 1247].
The Supreme Court in Evangelatos expressly did not pass judgment on the nature of the "antecedent rights" whose existence bars a retrospective application of a change in law.
Instead, as the court explained, the significant factor is the unanticipated consequences that "are frequently triggered by the application of a new, 'improved' legal principle retroactively to circumstances in which individuals may have already taken action in reasonable reliance on the previously existing state of the law.
Thus, the fact that the electorate chose to adopt a new remedial rule for the future does not necessarily demonstrate an intent to apply the new rule retroactively to defeat the reasonable expectations of those who have changed their positions in reliance on the old law.
The presumption of prospectivity assures that reasonable reliance on current legal principles will not be defeated in the absence of a clear indication of a legislative intent to override such reliance." (Evangelatos, supra, 44 Cal. 3d at pp. 1213-1214.)