What is required for a defendant who settles with the plaintiff to obtain contribution toward that settlement from another defendant? Can the settlement, itself, furnish the basis for claiming contribution? In New Jersey the answer is: No. A judgment is required to support the contribution claim against another defendant. Why? Because the Joint Tortfeasors Contribution Law (JTCL) says so. Should that law be changed to allow the settlement, itself, to trigger a right to contribution? We think so.
Before the 1952 enactment of the JTCL, N.J.S.A. 2A:53A-1 to -5, the common law of New Jersey allowed a plaintiff to place fault on one of several defendants who was helpless to shift any of the legal responsibility to other of the defendants. The JTCL was enacted to promote the fair sharing of the burden of judgment by joint tortfeasors. The JTCL gave those defendant tortfeasors a right of contribution if that defendant paid the injured person more than his or her pro rata share of the judgment. The right of contribution among defendants was purely a statutory creation and the statute provided that when injury or damages are suffered by an individual as a result of the liability of more than one tortfeasor, and that person recovers a money judgment against one or more joint tortfeasors, the defendant who pays toward the judgment will be entitled to recover contribution from other joint tortfeasors for the excess paid over that defendant’s pro rata share.