Successive Tortfeasors and the “Settlement Credit” of Ciluffo v. Middlesex Gen’l Hosp.

Glassman v. Friedel, 465 N.J. Super. 436 (App. Div. 2020). Ciluffo v. Middlesex Gen’l Hosp., 146 N.J. Super. 476 (App. Div. 1977), was a case involving how to handle a plaintiff’s claims against “successive independent tortfeasors” when the plaintiff settles with fewer than all defendants and then tries his or her case against the others. That case held that, in order to “avoid duplicating compensation to the plaintiff,” a non-settling defendant was entitled to a “settlement credit” for part of the payment made by the settling defendant.

The decision in Glassman, authored by Judge Messano, addressed whether that “settlement credit” was still proper given the adoption of the Comparative Negligence Act, N.J.S.A. 2A:15-5.1 et seq. Although the panel found neither side’s arguments “wholly satisfying,” it concluded that the Ciluffo “pro tanto settlement credit in an negligence case, whether it involves joint or successive tortfeasors, is a vestige of the common law and has no support in our current jurisprudence” (emphasis by Judge Messano).

Judge Messano’s opinion exhaustively analyzed the issues, discussing the differences between joint and successive tortfeasors, the Comparative Negligence Act, the Joint Tortfeasors Contribution Law, N.J.S.A. 2A:53A-1 et seq., New Jersey caselaw dating back to 1934, and much else. But since this decision may be seen as conflicting with Ciluffo (though the latter did not address the effect of the Comparative Negligence Act), there might be Supreme Court review. So, read this opinion in full, but watch for potential further developments.