Joint and Several Liability
The joint and several liability rule may come into play when more than one person or party contributes to the damages or personal injury of another (the claimant). Under this rule, the injured person may pursue any one tort-feasor (defendant) for recovery of all of their damages. If that defendant wants contribution from the other tort-feasors, then that defendant must either bring them into the lawsuit if the case is in litigation, or pursue them for contribution according to their share of liability after settlement.
The joint and several rule protects the claimant from the burden of having to name all possible tort-feasors, expending the time and expense involved with that effort. In the case of multiple defendants, it also saves the claimant from having to prove how much each party contributed to his accident, only that they all did.
Here is an example: Jane is stopped at a red light when she is struck from behind by John who is then struck from behind by Joe and pushed back into Jane’s vehicle a second time. Joe and John disagree as to who caused more of Jane’s personal injury. Their disagreement drags on even after Jane is ready to settle her personal injury claim. So Jane makes her claim against Joe for 100% of its value and her case settles. Jane has been compensated and may go on with her life. Joe and John then head to arbitration or court where a Judge determines that John must reimburse Joe for 50% of the money that he paid Jane.
A variation on this case would be if Jane’s claim were worth $50k. Joe has $15k in personal injury liability and John has $100k. Joe and John agree that they both owe 50% of Jane’s claim, but Joe pays his policy limits of $15k and John pays the other $35k under his policy. This scenario prevents Jane from being victimized twice: first by the accident and secondly by Joe’s low coverage. It is also why the joint and several rule is sometimes referred to as the “deep pocket” rule.
The rule of joint and several liability also protects the injured person in a case where one of multiple tort-feasors does not have any insurance. The other tort-feasor(s) can be called upon to pay all of her recoverable damages.
Not all states use the joint and several liability rule (Maryland is one that does). Some states employ the several liability rule where in the case of multiple tort-feasors, each one pays that percentage of damages that he owes. Contributory negligence and assumption of risk are still viable defenses depending on the laws of the state in which the accident occurs. Both the original case brought by the injured person and the case pursued by one tort-feasor against another are subject to the statute of limitations in that state.
This article is written for informational purposes and is not intended to take the place of competent local legal counsel.
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