Joint and Several Liability in Personal Injury Cases
Joint and several liability is a concept in which two or more parties (tortfeasors) that are responsible for hurting the plaintiff will be held independently liable for their damages irrespective of their percentage of fault.
Under this rule, a single tortfeasor can be responsible for the total amount of the plaintiff’s damages even if they are minimally responsible. If the plaintiff does recover from only one defendant, that defendant can seek contribution from the other defendant.
Under tort law, contribution allows the paying defendant to seek recovery of its payment from a co-defendant. These co-defendants will be required to pay damages that are in proportion to their negligence.
Not all states follow joint and several liability but rather implement a hybrid rule. In those states, they allow for joint and several liability but only when the tortfeasor is found more than 50% negligent for the damages.
For example, if there is a jury award of $100,000 and the two defendants are more than 50% responsible, then the plaintiff could collect the full award from either defendant but if less than 50%, then no recovery would be allowed. That defendant would also be able to seek contribution from the other defendant.
This hybrid rule is designed to balance the parties interest in personal injury cases. On the one hand, it seeks to prevent a single tortfeasor with “deep pockets” from paying the whole award while protecting a party who has only minor exposure from paying the total loss.
Joint and several liability laws vary from state to state. Due to the complexities, if you are injured by more than one tortfeasor, it’s best to contact an experienced personal injury attorney to discuss this and other important legal issues that can affect your case.
Dennis P. Sawan
Licensed in Ohio and Georgia
Christopher A. Sawan
Licensed in Ohio and Michigan