What happens when a plaintiff has a personal claim involving more than one defendant? Can she sue all of the potential liability defendants? Does she have to choose one or the other? What happens when one defendant is more responsible than the other defendant? These questions lead to the concept of joint and several liability.
Joint and Several Liability
Joint and several liability arises when two or more negligent acts combine to proximately cause the plaintiff’s injury. In such a case, each defendant will be jointly and severally liable to the plaintiff for all of the damage she sustained. If the plaintiff is able to determine which defendant is responsible for each portion of her damages, each defendant will only be liable for his portion of the damages.
However, if two or more defendants acted together to create the plaintiff’s injury, all defendants will be held responsible for the entire portion of plaintiff’s damages. This is true even if the plaintiff is able to determine which defendant is responsible for each portion of her damages.
In some jurisdictions, the theory of joint and several liability no longer applies if it is determined the defendant’s fault is less than the plaintiff’s fault in causing the injury. Some jurisdictions also refuse to apply joint and several liability upon the defendants as to non-economic injuries – such as pain suffering, emotional distress, and loss of enjoyment of life. In jurisdictions that follow these rules, the defendants will only be liable proportionate to their fault. For example, if two cars are racing down one street in the same direction and collide into plaintiff’s vehicle, if plaintiff is deemed partially responsible for the collision because she ran a stop sign and would not have been in the intersection but for her negligence, each defendant will only be liable for their portion of fault instead of fully liable for all of plaintiff’s damages.
A plaintiff is only entitled to one payout – also called – a satisfaction. Until a plaintiff receives her satisfaction, she is free to pursue all jointly liable defendants. Further, if a plaintiff decides it is in her best interest to settle against one defendant at any point during the litigation, this does not release the other defendant(s) from liability unless the plaintiff agrees to the same.
The responsible defendants do have some concepts they can rely on if they are jointly and severally liable to a plaintiff: contribution and indemnity.
If a defendant pays a plaintiff more than his share of liability, he may seek contribution from the other jointly liable defendant(s) for the amount they overpaid. On other situations, a defendant may seek indemnification from another defendant is he paid plaintiff’s damages even though he was much less responsible than the other non-paying defendant(s) or was only liable for some other reason – such as by contract or in vicarious liability situations.
How an Attorney Can Help
If you have been involved in a personal injury action involving more than one defendant and you do not know which defendant you should pursue, it is important you contact an experienced catastrophic injury lawyer in Las Vegas, NV who can analyze the potential liability of each defendant before your statute of limitation expires.
Thanks to Eglet Adams for their insight into personal injury claims and joint and several liability.