Landers v. East Texas Salt Water Disposal Co.
151 Tex. 251, 248 S.W.2d 731 (1952)
Landers owned a lake that he
kept full of fish. A pipeline owned by East Texas ruptured and saltwater
flowed into the lake, poisoning the fish (and causing other damages).
At the same time, a
different pipeline owned by Sun Oil Company ruptured and more saltwater
and oil entered Landers' lake.
Landers sued both East Texas
and Sun Oil for negligence.
Landers argued that the two
defendants were jointly and severally liable for the damages.
Landers argued that it was
not possible to determine which spill caused what damage, so both East
Texas and Sun Oil had to pay to fix the damage.
East Texas and Sun Oil
argued that they were only responsible for the damages they individually
caused. Since it was not possible to prove whose saltwater killed which
fish, neither of them should pay to fix the damages.
In the case of Sun Oil
Co. v. Robicheaux (Tex. Com. App.,
23 S.W.2d 713), it was held that when two defendants both take
independent actions that result in damage then each defendant is only
responsible for the damages which directly and proximately result from
The fact that it is
difficult (or impossible) to define who caused what damage does not
change the rule.
Basically, under Robicheaux, it would be impossible for Landers to
recover any damages, since he could not meet the burden of proof for
determining which pipe rupture killed which fish.
The Appellate Court found for
The Appellate court decided
to overrule Robicheaux since it
was inherently unfair.
The Court created a new rule
that, where tortuous acts of two or more wrongdoers join to produce an
indivisible injury (an injury which cannot be apportioned with reasonable
certainty to the individual wrongdoers), all of the wrongdoers will be
held jointly and severally liable for the entire damages and the injured
party may proceed to judgment against any one separately or against all
in one suit.
The Court also ruled that if
there is a segment of the damage that can be attributed to a single
tortfeasor, then that liability is borne solely by them.
Basically, this case said that
if two or more people all contribute to some damage, and you can't
determine who caused what damage, then the plaintiff can sue any of them
and make that defendant pay all of the damages. Or they can sue all the
defendants and the court can try to split the damages by some kind of
Under the theory of joint
and several liability, a plaintiff
can sue any one defendant and make them pay up to 100% of the damages.
That defendant can then turn around and sue the other defendants, and can
potentially get them to pay back some of what he had to pay the
Note that no matter how many
defendants there are, the plaintiff can never get more than 100% of the
total damages. If they receive 100% from the first defendant, they can't
then go sue the second defendant to get more money.