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In the United States civil court system, an impleader is a procedural device whereby a defendant in a lawsuit attempts to bring a third party into the action. This third party may be ultimately liable, in whole or in part, for the damages the plaintiff is seeking in the underlying action. For example, a motorist who is sued by another for injuries sustained in an accident caused by his faulty brakes may seek to implead the automobile shop that recently repaired the brakes in a negligent manner. A motion to implead a third party into an existing civil action is governed by Rule 14 of the federal rules of civil procedure.
Rule 14 provides that, "a defending party, as a third-party plaintiff, may cause a summons and complaint to be served upon a person not a party to the action who is or may be liable to the third-party plaintiff for all or part of the plaintiff's claim against the third-party plaintiff." Most state jurisdictions have similar impleader provisions that mirror this federal rule. A defendant who successfully impleads a third party into the action becomes a third party plaintiff and the impleaded party becomes a third party defendant.
Impleader is frequently used in situations where a defendant to a civil action has an existing liability insurance policy that provides that the insurance company will defend him in the action, and pay any damages that the plaintiff may be awarded. For example, a homeowner with a liability insurance policy, who is sued by a guest for injuries sustained in a slip and fall accident, may seek to implead his insurance company into the action as a third party defendant. If the plaintiff is awarded damages against the homeowner as a third party plaintiff, the homeowner can recover them from his insurance carrier.
A court has discretion to grant a defendant’s motion to implead a third party into the action. One of the purposes for the impleader rule is to promote judicial economy by resolving related issues in one case. If a third-party plaintiff brings another party into the action under an agreement for contribution or indemnity, it saves him from having to file a later suit against the third party defendant. Most courts will balance the judicial interest in having related issues of liability and contribution determined in one action against the likelihood that the proceedings may complicate the action, cause delay, prejudice the plaintiff, or confuse the jury.
@indemnifyme - Good point about the insurance companies.
I think that it's good this option exists in instances like the faulty breaks the article described, that directly caused an accident. However, I can also see this becoming a legal mess.
It seems like an easy way for the defendant to deflect guilt onto someone else. I hope that judges carefully review these requests before granting them! It would stink for an innocent party to be dragged into a lawsuit for no reason.
I think an impleader makes a lot of sense, especially where liability insurance is concerned. If the insurance company is going to end up paying for it anyway, why not just make them a participant in the lawsuit. This would definitely save time later on! And probably result in the plaintiff getting their money sooner.
However, one thing I wanted to point out is if you're involved in a court case for some type of liability that isn't covered under your insurance, an impleader won't work. Your insurance company will only pay for the damages if it's something covered in your insurance contract.
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