What is Joint and Several Liability?

In some states, there is a legal principle known as “joint and several liability,” which explains the responsibility shared by two or more people for harm or damage to someone else. An individual seeking compensation is called a “plaintiff,” and each person or entity responsible for the wound is called a tortfeasor. The common causes of injury or harm for which a plaintiff can seek a claim include motor vehicle accidents, injuries on property, medical negligence, defective products, etc.

This principle empowers the plaintiff to seek full payment for damages from the wealthiest tortfeasor if the other tortfeasors can not pay. In other words, someone partially responsible for harm may still be held accountable for fully compensating the victim under joint and several liability laws. 

Anyone can be sued by a party who has been wronged, and anyone can be held liable for the total damages awarded by a court. Joint and several liability is a typical way of reducing the risk of financial loss to the party that has experienced harm.

Under common law made by judges, joint and several liability was popular. The idea was to prevent an innocent victim from suffering unreimbursed losses and hold a tortfeasor financially accountable for the inequality of the other tortfeasor. However, several states have abandoned joint and several liability for the legal doctrine of pure several liability, which makes each tortfeasor responsible for their share of the damages.

How Does Joint and Several Liability Work?

Following the provision of joint and several liability, a plaintiff may file a claim against each defendant who contributed to the harm. When the court awards financial compensation to a plaintiff, the plaintiff can receive total compensation from all or the party that is most likely to pay the money. 

When a tortfeasor pays more than their fair share, the tortfeasor may file a legal claim for contribution against the other defendants to recoup the sums other defendants should pay the victim.

Here is an illustration of how joint and several liability might be used if two drivers are partially responsible for an accident that caused harm to a third party. 

If Driver A and Driver B were to share 40 percent and 60 percent responsibility for the collision that caused Driver C $100,000 damages, they would have to pay $100,000 in damages proportionately. If Driver A has no money, Driver B could end up paying the $100,000 and then file a legal claim for contribution from Driver A. However, if Driver A has no assets and can not pay, Driver B might not get any refund.

Pros and Demerits of Joint and Several Liability

The main advantage of joint and several liability is that uncompensated losses are less likely to occur. The plaintiff will be fully compensated, provided at least one of the tortfeasors has the financial resources to cover the damages.

The disadvantage is that a defendant might be forced to pay more expenses than they should be required to. That the other tortfeasor lacks financial resources is not a fair reason for someone who contributed less than ten percent to an incident to have to pay the total damages.

If someone hurts you in an accident, you should get in touch with a personal injury attorney as soon as possible to get the support you need to maximize your recovery, ” says attorney Lawrence J. Buckfire of Buckfire Law