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A procedural device used in a civil action whereby a defendant brings into the lawsuit a third party who is not already a party to the action but may ultimately be liable for the plaintiff's claim against the defendant.

Impleader is most commonly used where the third party, often an insurance company, has a duty to indemnify, or contribute to the payment of, the plaintiff's damages. An insurance policy usually provides that if the insured is sued, the insurance company will defend him or her in court and pay any damages owed if he or she is found liable in the action. For example, suppose a person slips and falls on a home-owner's property, suffers an injury, and sues the homeowner. If the homeowner has a home-owner's policy, he may implead his insurance company by filing a third-party complaint for approval by the court. If the court permits the complaint, the insurer is brought into the action. The homeowner is now both the defendant in the action and a third-party plaintiff. If he is found liable and ordered to pay damages, the insurance company will be expected to pay all or part of those damages.

Impleader, which was known as vouching-in at Common Law, is now governed by procedural rules on both the state and federal levels. "Vouching in" has its origins in the English common-law practice of "vouching to warranty." A defendant, sued by a plaintiff for the recovery of a certain piece of property, could "vouch in" another party who may have given a Warranty of title when the property was sold to the defendant. Similar types of third-party actions began to appear in this country and eventually, in the interests of uniformity, a federal rule of civil procedure providing for impleader was adopted. Rule 14 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 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."State rules of civil procedure regulate the use of impleader in actions commenced in state courts. In Connecticut, for instance,"a defendant in any civil action may move the court for permission to serve a writ, summons and complaint upon a person not a party to the action who is or may be liable to him for all or part of the plain-tiff's claim against him" (Conn. R. Super. Ct. 117). Both federal and state court impleader rules are designed to promote judicial economy by disposing of two or more trials in one action, thus eliminating the need for the defendant to sue the third party at a later time.

A third party who is brought into an action through impleader is entitled to defend herself or himself against the claims of both the plaintiff and the defendant, raising whatever defenses may be applicable. An insurance company may allege that the policy issued to the defendant does not cover the acts that gave rise to the lawsuit and thus led the defendant to implead the company. For example, suppose Ann has been sued for allegedly assaulting Susan and has filed an impleader to have her insurance company defend her and pay any damages against her. The insurance company may refuse to defend her on the ground that the policy does not cover intentional acts, such as assaulting another person. If the court agrees, the insurance company will not have to defend Susan or pay any damages that Ann is awarded by the court or a jury.

The court has a great deal of discretion in deciding whether a defendant may implead a third party. The court considers a number of factors, including whether joining the third party will unduly complicate the action, cause delay in deciding the main action (the original suit brought by the plaintiff against the defendant), adversely affect the plaintiff, or confuse the jury. If any of these factors is present, the court may refuse to permit the impleader. The court's decision to grant or deny the impleader will be over-turned by an appellate court only if it appears that the lower court abused its discretion.

Further readings

Wicks, James M., and Marie Zweig. 1999. "Impleader Practice in New York: Does It Really Discourage Piecemeal Litigation?" New York State Bar Journal 71 (February): 44.

West's Encyclopedia of American Law, edition 2. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


n. a procedural device before trial in which a party brings a third party into the lawsuit because that third party is the one who owes money to an original defendant, which funds will be available to pay the original plaintiff. The theory is that two cases may be decided together and justice may be done more efficiently than having two suits in a series.

Copyright © 1981-2005 by Gerald N. Hill and Kathleen T. Hill. All Right reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
he poses concerning counterclaims, cross-claims, and impleader claims that
697, 704 (1979) (speculating that defendants may forego impleader because it may increase chances of liability).
However, the majority of impleader claims for indemnity or contribution are based on state law.
The impleader claim by the defendant (Nebraska) against a third-party defendant (Iowa and Nebraska) is a supplemental claim.
However, the impleader claim by the defendant (Nebraska) against the third-party defendant (Iowa) is not a supplemental claim, but a freestanding claim.
Put slightly differently, the plaintiff's claim against a nondiverse third-party defendant can be understood as supplemental to the defendant's impleader claim against the third-party defendant rather than as supplemental to the plaintiff's original claim against the defendant.
Although the Court seemingly agreed to permit the assertion of ancillary jurisdiction over the impleader claims of defendants under Rule 14, and in other settings,(107) the Court refused to countenance the expansion of ancillary jurisdiction to encompass a Rule 14 claim by the plaintiff against the newly impleaded defendant.
at 375 n.18 (citing with apparent approval lower court decisions that had asserted ancillary jurisdiction over compulsory counterclaims, cross-claims, impleader claims, and claims by intervenors as of right).
Pendent and ancillary jurisdiction may be used with respect either to additional claims between parties already before the courts (as with compulsory counterclaims) or to claims bringing in new parties (as with impleader of a third-party defendant).
Such supplemental jurisdiction also would be precluded where the impleader claim falls below the amount in controversy, but I suspect that cases in which the primary claim exceeds the amount in controversy but the impleader claim does not are quite rare.