Gov. Corbett

's backers among Pennsylvania business owners and hospital operators got what they'd been demanding for years Tuesday, when he signed the "Fair Share Act," which limits legal liability for defendants in product liability or alleged malpractice lawsuits.

Will the law attract new factory jobs and keep doctors from leaving the state by making it hard to collect on obnoxious and frivolous lawsuits?

Or will it embolden business owners to contract work out to independent and foreign contractors, knowing it will be tough to hold them liable for any problems?

The Hospital and Healthsystem Association of Pennsylvania praised the law, which ends "joint and several" liability for defendants whom a court finds were less than 60 percent liable for causing an injury. Association chief Carolyn F. Scanlan predicted the new limits will "keep doctors practicing, hospital services open for patients, and preserve essential jobs."

"Pennsylvania's system of joint and several liability has been used by personal injury attorneys as a search for 'deep pocket' defendants," state Chamber of Business and Industry vice president Gene Barr said in a statement before the bill passed. "Joint and several liability has become nothing more than a tool to force settlements from job creators and health-care providers that might be minimally at fault or not at fault at all."

But Corbett's law marks "a historic moral shift. A fundamental change in values," countered Gerald McHugh, partner at Raynes McCarty in Center City, who represented Pennsylvania trial lawyers in negotiation on the bill.

What will change? "Traditionally, if one defendant couldn't pay their share, other defendants had to step into the breach. Now, it becomes the victim's problem," he told me.

McHugh cited the case of a "Made in America" bike whose pedal shattered, projecting the rider onto the road and breaking both wrists. The U.S. manufacturer blamed a Taiwan contractor, who couldn't be found. Under the old law, the manufacturer had to pay damages; under the new law, he might pay half, leaving the rest uncollected.

What that means, to McHugh: "We will be protecting American manufacturers who use substandard foreign suppliers. It gives [them] a reason to use a foreign source."

Too many bargains?

Credit analysts at Wall Street's two biggest bond-rating agencies want

Toll Bros.

to stop shopping for a while.

The Horsham-based high-end home builder can raise enough cash from banks and its own profits "to weather another year or two of weak sales," but the company faces "significant" risk, even as it keeps buying more land, in the face of a "weaker than previously anticipated" home market, Standard & Poor's credit analyst James Fielding wrote Monday.

Fielding cut Toll Bros.' credit rating to BB+, a junk-bond rating that makes its debt less attractive to conservative investors.

The report follows a similar June 3 rating confirmation by Moody's Investors Service, which noted that Toll Bros. keeps buying lots and lot options - more than 10,000 last year, nearly 2,000 in the first quarter of this year - despite already controlling "13 to 16 years' " worth of building sites.

"Moody's does not necessarily view additional dirt at this point in the cycle to be the equivalent of brown gold," analyst Joseph Snider warned at that time.

Two weeks after the Moody's report, Toll announced it was spending $35.5 million to buy space for 80 homes on three lots at 276-280 Third Ave. in Manhattan's Gramercy Park. S&P cut its rating four days later.

"May not be the smoothest public-relations move in the history of the home-building industry," acknowledged Guy LeBas, chief bond strategist at Janney Capital Markets in Philadelphia, who has an underweight position in home-builder bonds. "But who's to say [Gramercy] was a bad idea? Just because builders have too much inventory doesn't mean they shouldn't pursue new, potentially profitable projects."

Toll Bros. officials didn't return calls.

Big enough

Shares of

Susquehanna Bancshares Inc.

skidded 15 percent in the last two months, as the Lititz, Lancaster County, bank prepared its $283 million purchase of

Abington Bancorp

and announced plans to buy

Tower Bancorp

and its Chester County subsidiary,


, for $343 million.

Chief executive William Reuter promises he's done with buying other banks around here, though he may want to build a few more offices in Bucks County and Center City: "In terms of acquisitions, we have what we need."

Susquehanna was one of the few banks that kept financing business deals like the Boscov's reorganization through the 2008-09 credit freeze. Now, Reuter said, conservatively managed small businesses are slowly preparing to expand.

The two deals make Susquehanna Bank the No. 5 bank in Pennsylvania and No. 8 in Philadelphia and its Pennsylvania suburbs, with 55 branches and more than $2 billion in deposits. Susquehanna is almost as large in South Jersey. Its regional headquarters in Camden is run by bank veteran Joe Lizza.

Contact Joseph N. DiStefano at 215-854-5194 or