WASHINGTON’S UNIQUE APPROACH TO PARTIAL TORT SETTLEMENTS: THE MODIFIED PRO TANTO CREDIT AND THE REASONABLENESS HEARING REQUIREMENT

Encouraging the settlement of disputes is one of the primary goals of the tort system.1 The best method for promoting that goal is to provide litigants with both the incentive to settle and with clear, predictable rules regarding the effects of settlement. There are no systemic obstacles to the settlement of single defendant cases or total settlement in cases involving multiple defendants. Both the incentive to settle and the predictable effects of a compromise actually promote settlement. Parties avoid the risk of total defeat, eliminate the need for incurring additional litigation expenses, and extinguish potential liability to other parties for the same loss.

The partial settlement of multi-defendant tort litigation is more complex. In such circumstances, the interests of the plaintiff, the settling defendant, and the non-settling defendant collide. The tort system’s three principal goals of promoting full recovery by claimants, encouraging settlements, and enforcing equitable sharing of losses among defendants, cannot be completely harmonized. Conceptual precision and the encouragement of settlement often compete against, rather than complement, each other.

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Thomas V. Harris, Washington’s Unique Approach to Partial Tort Settlements: The Modified Pro Tanto Credit and the Reasonableness Hearing Requirement, 20 Gonz. L. Rev. 69 (1984).

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