What is Joint and Several Liability in California?

  • October 02, 2019
  • Blog

Joint and several liability is a legal principle that is applicable in some states.

The meaning of joint and several liability in California is simple.

Two or more parties can be held independently responsible for the full amount of damages sustained by a personal injury plaintiff. This liability is regardless of their own respective degrees of fault in the case.

This means a defendant can be held responsible for 100% of your damages even though they were only 15% responsible for your injuries.

In the event you only collect from one jointly and severally liable party, the defendant can then pursue any other responsible parties to seek contribution.

Our California personal injury attorneys will explain what you should know.

What are Tortfeasors?

Parties who are found to be responsible for the accident are known as tortfeasors. Essentially a tortfeasor is someone who commits a tort. If the tortfeasor is found liable, he or she must compensate the plaintiff for their injuries and physical damages. Tortfeasors are called defendants in a civil case.

If there are multiple tortfeasors in a case, your California auto accident attorney will be the one who ensures they are all named in the lawsuit.

How Joint and Several Liability Works in California

In California, joint and several liability is an adopted version of the old common law version. It says that more than one party can be jointly responsible for the full amount of your economic damages, but only separately (severally) liable for your non-economic damages in proportion to your percentage of fault.

Other states have a pure rule of several liability where each party only pays damages up to the extent of their proportional fault for the accident. In other states, you have rules like a tortfeasor who settles with a plaintiff gives up his or her right to contribution from any other tortfeasors.

However, the remainder of tortfeasors are then entitled to a setoff for whatever the settlement amount is. In other words, the settlement amount is subtracted from any award from the jury.

Why Some States Utilize Joint and Several Liability

Joint and several liability serves a valuable purpose, which is why some states follow it. It reduces the risk to the plaintiff when one or more of the defendants is judgment-proof.

Judgment-proof means that you cannot collect on a judgment awarded against a particular defendant because he or she has no assets. Joint and several liability keeps the burden of an insolvent or uninsured defendant away from the injured plaintiff. Instead, it shifts the risk to other defendants because they also share some of the fault for the accident.

In the rare event all defendants fall under the category of judgment-proof, then the plaintiff would not be able to recover compensation for their damages. In most cases though, at least one defendant is likely to have some insurance or assets that will cover the loss.

Is There a Downside to Joint and Several Liability?

There are certainly some critics of joint and several liability. One argument for these is the risk that it will result in severe inequalities.

One good example is a defendant who is only 10% at fault, but is jointly and severally liable with another defendant who is 90% at fault, yet may end up with the full financial responsibility if the 90% at-fault defendant is judgement-proof.

Contact a California Personal Injury Attorney Today

If you or a loved one was injured in an accident due to someone else’s, or multiple parties’, negligence, it’s important to contact Levinson Law Group today.

We offer free case consultations.