When the negligent actions of another person result in an accident where you suffer damages, you may be eligible for compensation. But, before you recover the compensation, you must first establish who the liable party is.
Where only two parties are involved, the negligent party will carry liability for the accidents. But when more than one entity is involved in an accident, the doctrine of joint or several liabilities may apply, but it will depend on your state.
Joint and Several Liability Defined
Joint and several liability is a legal doctrine applied when multiple entities are responsible for causing harm. Under this doctrine, each entity is called a tortfeasor and can be held responsible for paying 100% of the damages, irrespective of their share of responsibility.
The reasoning behind this doctrine is to avoid having an innocent victim suffer uncompensated losses by having the financially stable entity bear financial responsibility on behalf of defendants who do not have the funds to pay the damages.
This doctrine applies to all types of accident-related injuries, from motor vehicles to defective products, property liability, and medical negligence-related injuries.
Alternatives to Joint and Several Liability
Traditionally, this doctrine was prevalent under common law. But many states have since moved away from it and adopted other alternatives such as the pure several liability.
Under pure several liability, every tortfeasor is responsible for paying damages according to their share in responsibility irrespective of whether all defendants can compensate the victim. While this approach is fair to the defendants, it can be unfair to the plaintiff, especially if the defendant carrying the most blame cannot compensate them.
Other states take a hybrid approach which allows the tortfeasor who settles the case to waive their rights to receive contributions from co-defendants. When a defendant waives this right, they only pay what their contribution to the accident is worth, which is subtracted from the settlement.
The plaintiff then takes other co-defendants to court for their share of responsibility for the accident. The decision to take other tortfeasors to court may be determined by their ability to pay. If they are not in a position to pay, it may not be worth going to court.
Winners and Losers
The plaintiff is the biggest beneficiary under the joint and several liabilities doctrine because there is a high chance of getting compensation after an accident as long as one co-defendant has enough money to pay for damages. For example, suppose an uninsured driver and an insured driver are partially responsible for an accident. In that case, the insured driver is more likely to pay up since their liability is deflected to their insurance company, giving the plaintiff a good chance of recovering full compensation.
On the other hand, the defendant stands to lose the most since it can mean bearing costs for damages that had very little to do with them. For example, in an accident where tortfeasor A is 20% to blame for the accident while tortfeasor B is 70% to blame, tortfeasor A may still be held responsible for covering all damages, which is by all means not fair.
Get Legal Help
“Unfortunately, you do not get to choose the laws that apply to your case; the laws of your state determine applicable approaches. So, knowing applicable laws in your state is important to developing the proper strategy,” says attorney Rustin Smith of Smith Hulsey Law.
It is also important to consider that a multiple-party accident can be significantly complicated, so it is best to have a lawyer with you when navigating a claim or if you are among the tortfeasors.
Hemant Kumar is a project manager at Tridindia with more than nine years of commendable experience in writing about LMS, translation, and IT. His unmatched talent and passion for digital marketing gave him the opportunity to work as a multi-tasking project manager at TridIndia’s sister company, Link Building Corp. Today, he contributes to the world by imparting knowledge on SEO, link building and internet marketing etc., that helps business owners grow their online business.