Haderlie v. Sondgeroth

In Haderlie v. Sondgeroth, 866 P.2d 703 (Wyo. 1993), Sondgeroth filed suit against several defendants, alleging that their negligence caused his damages. 866 P.2d at 706-07. All the defendants, except Haderlie and his employer, settled with Sondgeroth prior to the trial. 866 P.2d at 707. At the conclusion of the trial, the jury returned a verdict finding Haderlie was entirely at fault and the remainder of the actors were not at fault. Id. Haderlie sought to have the amounts of the other defendants' settlements subtracted from the judgment against him. Id. The Court held that he was not entitled to credit for the codefendants' settlements because the jury had found him to be one hundred percent at fault and, under Wyoming's comparative fault statute, each tortfeasor is required to pay his proportionate share of the judgment. 866 P.2d at 708 (citing 1-1-109). The Court stated that, because the settling plaintiff bears the risk he will settle for an amount less than a jury may later determine he is owed by a defendant, he should also be entitled to reap any benefit which may result from a favorable settlement reached before trial with one of several codefendants. 866 P.2d at 710. The Court acknowledged that, although this principle of law may, in some cases, result in a windfall for a plaintiff, it serves the important public policy of encouraging settlement of disputes. 866 P.2d at 709-10 (citing Rambaum v. Swisher, 435 N.W.2d 19, 23 (Minn. 1989)). The Court commented further that, in choosing who should reap the benefit of a pretrial settlement -- a nonsettling defendant or an injured plaintiff -- the correct policy choice is clear: The injured plaintiff should be favored over a nonsettling defendant. 866 P.2d at 710. The Court considered the following "sudden emergency" instruction: "Where a person finds himself or herself confronted with a sudden emergency, which was not brought on about his or her own negligence or want of care, such person has a legal right to do what appears to him or her at the time he or she should do, so long as he or she acts in a reasonable manner as any other person would have done under like or similar circumstances, to avoid an injury; and if he or she does so act, he or she will not be deemed to have been negligent even though it might afterwards be apparent that some other course of action would have been safer." Id. In Haderlie, appellee James Sondgeroth sought to recover personal injury damages resulting from his automobile striking a horse that had earlier been struck and killed by appellant Haderlie. Id. at 706-07. The trial court refused the sudden emergency instruction and reasoned that: "This Court does not deem that there has been any evidence of a sudden emergency. That's more applicable to a driver's suddenly finding someone in his own lane, or a spot of ice that he's onto, or something very immediate. In this case, there was an attenuation of approximately ten minutes of time from the time that Mr. Haderlie struck the horse until the Plaintiff struck the horse; and the Court does not deem that to be a sudden emergency." Id. at 718. The Court determined that the instruction was properly refused as unsupported by the evidence. Id.