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What is Joint and Several Liability?

Many parties could be liable for causing harm to you in personal injury claims. If you are in such a situation, you could wonder who to sue for damages. In California, the joint and several liability doctrine provides for this issue.  

The doctrine requires that all defendants in the claim be held responsible for damages even though several individuals’ negligence caused the accident. Since issues surrounding the doctrine are complex, you want to call a Bakersfield personal injury lawyer for legal counsel.

The Meaning of Joint and Several Liability in California

Per California law, joint and several liability are a legal principle that explains the shared responsibility between many defendants in a personal injury claim. If negligence and multiple parties caused harm to you in a road accident, the law allows you to sue every party independently. If your claim is successful, you recover damages from every defendant. For economic damages, you receive full compensation, while for non-economic damages, you receive compensation equivalent to each defendant’s fault.

The Tortfeasors Provision

In a multi-party claim, The law does not require the defendants to have caused harm to you in any particular way. All that matters is that the defendant’s combined actions resulted in your harm.

Sharing Special Damages Among Multiple Liable Parties 

According to California law, economic damages are those you suffer and can attach monetary value. The defendants pay you economic damages out-of-pocket, including the loss you have incurred and the one you would incur in the future. Economic damages include:

  • Present and future hospital bills
  • Property damage
  • Lost income and future earning capacity

Example: Jane is injured in a car collision where three different motorists are responsible. The trio acted negligently, resulting in Jane’s harm and property damage. The court determines that jane should receive $300000 compensation in special damages from the trio. In this claim, Jane receives a $300000 compensation amount, regardless of the percentage of guilt. The three defendants must determine the amount each should pay by bringing a contribution. 

Contribution Action

Contribution action means a distinct legal action you file between the multiple parties in a car accident. When just one party is responsible for your entire damages, they could sue other parties for the percentage of fault. The law requires that you are not a party to the contribution action. 

Contribution Vs. Indemnity

Contribution and indemnity address the degree of at-fault parties’ fault and their responsibility for the damages to you. However, there is a difference between contribution and indemnity. A contribution action allows the at-fault party to sue other defendants for a percentage of the full damages. Indemnity permits the responsible party to sue another guilty party for the full damages. An indemnity is only an option if the liable party is not fully blamed for your injuries. 

Example of indemnity: a shop attendant throws an object at a client, and the client files a claim against the shop and wins $5000 in damages. The shop owner could sue the attendant for the whole compensation amount since the attendant became the at-fault party when they threw an object at the client.

Determining Liability in Joint and Several Liability Claims

After your lawsuit reaches the trial stage, the trier of fact determines the percentage of guilt every party had when they caused you harm. Also known as the finder of fact, the trier of fact is the judge sitted in a bench trial. In the contribution action, responsible defendants could pursue the contribution of settlement value from another in a proportionate share to the degree of liability.

For example, in John’s case (explained above), the judge determined that defendant 1 was 40% responsible, and defendant 2 was 60% responsible for the car accident. John receives the value of all her economic damages from defendant 1. This particular defendant could petition a contribution action against defendant 2 for them to pay John 60% of the claim.

Joint and Several Liability as an Exception

The law does not consider many at-fault parties that caused harm to you jointly and severally responsible for general damages. Each party is liable for the damages’ value equal to their degree of guilt as determined by the court. Also, a defendant could be responsible for the total damages of the special damages and only be accountable for their degree of fault.

What General Damages Entail

General damages refer to the losses that defendants do not pay out of pocket. General damages are more subjective and challenging to allot a definite monetary compensation until the court completes the computation. 

At-fault parties could be responsible for general damages, including lost consortium, emotional distress, impairment, disfigurement, and inconvenience. 

California law does not limit the general damages you could receive in personal injury claims. An exception is medical malpractice cases where the law caps general damages at $250000 on your non-economic damages. 

In California, personal injury law is complex. It is more complicated to navigate lawsuits that involve many defendants. Help from a competent personal injury attorney could raise the chances of receiving fair compensation.

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