The lack of income due to Bubba‘s injuries was devastating. He couldn’t make his mortgage payment and had to move from his home in Wewoka, Oklahoma. When the big day came, Bubba pulled into the yard in his Ford 4×4, and rigged up a homemade hitch to “hook up” his mobile home so that he could pull it down the road to the new homeplace (behind Aunt Pudge’s house just outside of Wetumka). It’s a long way from Wewoka to Wetumka, particularly if you have to go through Weleetka (the mobile home won’t fit across the single lane bridge if you go the short way). During the trip, Bubba decided to stop at Weleetka to use the facilities and “leetka.” I have to point out that Bubba’s pretty health conscious and he realized pretty quickly that he had just drained out all of his bodily fluids and needed to replace and replenish his system. Fortunately for Bubba, he had stopped just across the road from the High and Dry Bar and Saloon that has some of the cheapest beer in the whole county. Bubba went in and fully replaced his bodily fluids with a few pitchers of beer, then started back down the road to his new homeplace in Wetumka.
On the way, Bubba met a little old lady on her way to bury her pet canary. She was driving down the road in her big yellow Oldsmobile, wiping the tears from her eyes and blowing her nose. In her grief, she veered across the center line and almost hit Bubba head on. The one thing about Bubba, even when he’s had a few pitchers of beer, he’s still got good reaction time. He swerved to the shoulder of the road and missed the little old lady, but jackknifed his Ford 4×4 and the mobile home in the process. The mobile home spun around and slid through the ditch right up into Moses Brown’s pasture. As it slid through the fence, Moses’ prize bull was standing right where he could watch the whole thing! The washing machine came flying out the front door of the mobile home and hit him right between the eyes and killed him.
Moses Brown’s claim could have been settled for a whole lot less if it had been one of his kids instead of his prize bull. The bull had been in the family for years and was the only bull he had. He has eight kids! Moses decided that he was going to get every last dime for the emotional distress associated with having to butcher and eat a member of the family. He was so mad he sued both Bubba and the High and Dry Bar and Saloon.
The High and Dry Bar and Saloon hired a smart independent adjuster who quickly settled with Moses and obtained a General Release without even having to file an Answer to the suit. The Release specifically named the High and Dry Bar and Saloon and “any and all others who might be responsible including their agents, successors, personal representatives, assigns, partners, corporations, and all others. . . .” Moses Brown went ahead with the suit against Bubba. After hearing about Bubba’s fluid replenishment, Bubba’s insurer, Wewoka’s Worldwide Insurance, decided the only way to defend the claim was based upon the language of “all others” in the General Release Moses Brown gave the bar. Wewoka Worldwide turned down Bubba’s offer to re-create the accident on video to show how quickly he reacted.
Since our office doesn’t do any work for Wewoka Worldwide Insurance, I always make sure that Bubba buys his insurance from a Wewoka Worldwide agent. It seems like the least I can do for insurers that send us their business. Wewoka Worldwide hopes the General Release to the High and Dry Bar and Saloon also released Bubba from any liability. I don’t think that they are going to have much success with that argument.
In, Cotner v. Cessna Aircraft Co., 1995 OK 95, 903 P.2d 878, the Oklahoma Court of Appeals repeated the Supreme Court’s answer about whether a General Release with broad boiler-plate language releases all parties. The Court held that a General Release signed by an injured party which contains the names of the person to be released along with general broad language which purports to release the entire world from any and all claims will not discharge liability from those potential tortfeasors that are not specifically named in the Release.
The Court’s decision is consistent with the statute concerning contribution by joint tortfeasors (Bubba thinks “tortfeasor” is a funny word!) found at 12 O.S. § 832(H):
When a release, covenant not to sue, or a similar agreement is given in good faith to one of two or more persons liable in tort for the same injury or the same wrongful death:
- It does not discharge any other tortfeasor from liability for the injury or wrongful death unless the other tortfeasor is specifically named; but it reduces the claims against others to the extent of any amount stipulated by the release or the covenant, or in the amount of the consideration paid for it, whichever is greater; and
- It discharges the tortfeasor to whom it is given from all liability for contribution to any other tortfeasor.