What Does ‘Joint and Several’ Liability Mean?

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Picture the following situation: You slip and fall on a wet floor at a local mall or shopping center and suffer serious injuries to your back and hip.  As you begin your premises liability case, you and your attorney discover that although the center is owned and operated by Company A, that company actually contracts with another company, Company B, to maintain the center’s floors and provide janitorial services.  You successfully bring a lawsuit against both companies, and the court orders that they are “jointly and severally” liable for your losses.  What precisely did the court just order?

Making Sure the Victim of a Personal Injury Accident Is Repaid

When two or more defendants are said to be “jointly and severally” responsible for an injured person’s losses, they are both at least fifty percent at fault for causing the accident.  Joint and several liability is an expression used to describe who is responsible for paying the full sum of the injury victim’s damages.  When two or more parties are declared to be jointly and severally liable, each has an independent obligation to ensure the plaintiff is paid the full sum of compensation owed.  This can be accomplished in one of several ways:

  • One defendant may pay the full amount, alleviating the other party from having to pay any compensation to the plaintiff;
  • One defendant may pay half of the total amount owed (or whatever other percentage) under an agreement with the other party, who then pays the remainder of the amount owed; or
  • One defendant may pay the full amount and then file a lawsuit seeking reimbursement from the other defendant for their “fair share.”

If neither defendant pays the full amount of compensation owed to the plaintiff, the plaintiff may bring a lawsuit against one defendant, the other defendant, or both of the defendants for payment. A defendant who has been declared to be joint and severally liable for the plaintiff’s injuries cannot defend himself in such a suit by claiming the other defendant has not paid any compensation to the plaintiff.  The defendant can be forced to pay the full amount and, if the defendant believes the other defendant owes them some reimbursement, the first defendant will need to file a separate suit seeking such reimbursement.

Advantages of Joint and Several Liability

Where defendants are found to be jointly and severally liable, this makes recovering the full amount of compensation easier for the plaintiff.  The plaintiff can choose to enforce the judgment against one of the defendants or all of the defendants and require the defendants to sort out who owes who what sum of money.  Joint and several liability is not available in all cases involving multiple defendants, however, so seek out and talk to skilled personal injuries about your case to ascertain what vehicles of recovery are available to you.
David R. Price, Jr., P.A. is a Greenville personal injury law firm representing injured residents in the Greenville area and throughout South Carolina. Reach out to our firm today to discuss your personal injury case and questions by calling our firm’s office or contacting us through our online contact form.

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