Division of Liability in a Personal Injury Claim

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What is Division of Liability in a Personal Injury Claim?

Division of liability in a personal injury claim refers to situations where more than one person is responsible for the plaintiff’s injuries.  For example, suppose a person was injured in an automobile accident caused by three other drivers.  How does the court determine the amount which each driver must pay the injured person?

Each state has specific laws that provide guidelines for such situations, and these laws are often referred to as “division of liability” laws.  The most common forms of these laws are “joint liability”, “several liability”, and “joint and several liability” laws.

What is “Joint Liability”?

Joint liability laws make each party liable for the full amount of the injury or debt.  For example, if three drivers are held jointly liable for the injuries of another driver, they are each liable for the damages.  If one of the three drivers passes away, the other two will have to continue making the damages payments until the injured party’s losses are remedied.  Joint liability applies mostly to debt contexts, and is not so common in personal injury or tort claims.  

What is “Several Liability”?

Several liability is the opposite of joint liability.  Under several liability laws, each defendant is only liable for the percentage of injury that they caused.  For example, if the three drivers were each only liable for one third of the plaintiff’s injuries, they will each have to pay only 1/3 of the amount of the damages award.  Several liability is sometimes called “Proportionate Liability”  

The difficulty with several liability lies in determining the exact percentage of liability for each defendant.  For example, it may be quite difficult to conclude whether a defendant was 20% liable, 30% liable, etc.  Several liability is very similar to the way liability is divided in a comparative negligence defense.

What is “Joint and Several Liability”?

Joint and several liability works by first holding each defendant liable as a group for the plaintiff’s injury.  Then, it is left up to each defendant to determine how much of the damages award that they will be responsible for. 

So, in our example involving three different drivers, each driver will be included as a defendant and will incur liability for the plaintiff’s injuries.  If the defendants decide that only one driver is fully responsible, that driver would have to pay the full amount of the damages.  If that driver disagrees, they can file a separate lawsuit against the other two drivers to obtain contributions from them. 

Which Liability Rules Apply in Each State?

Every U.S. state has laws covering the division of liability in a personal injury claim.  Some states follow “pure” rules, while others apply a “modified” version of a rule (meaning that they may place limitations on the division of liability).

States that follow “pure” several liability rules are:  AK, AZ, AR, CT, FL, GA, IN, KS, KY, MI, TN, UT, VT, and WY.  The rest of the states apply their own modified version of the Joint and Several liability laws.  Again, “pure” joint liability is rarely applied in a personal injury claim. 

What is an Example of How Division of Liability Works?

Suppose that Anne is struck by cars driven by Betty, Christine, and Diane.  The jury determines that Anne is entitled to $10,000 in damages.  It is also determined that Betty is 20% liable, Christine is 20% liable, and Diane is 60% liable.

Do I Need a Lawyer for Assistance with Division of Liability in a Personal Injury Claim?

Many personal injury claims involve multiple defendants, each of whom may have different degrees of liability.  If you need assistance with division of liability, you may wish to contact a lawyer for help with your lawsuit.  Your personal injury attorney will be able to help you recover the full amount entitled to you according to the laws in your area.

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Last Modified: 03-22-2012 03:12 PM PDT

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