Contribution and indemnity are two ways in which a defendant (the person being sued in a legal action) in a personal injury claim can sue other parties to pay for some or all of the damages. This usually occurs when a plaintiff (the person bringing the legal action) is injured by multiple parties and only chooses to sue a single defendant. For example, say D, D1 and D2 all cause injury to P, yet P only sues D and wins a $5,000 judgment. Using contribution or indemnity, D can sue D1 and/or D2 for reimbursement of some or all of the $5,000.
Contribution allows one defendant to sue other parties for only a portion of the total damages. This is a good option for a defendant that is partially at fault, and wants the other parties to pickup their share of the damages. For example, suppose drivers A and B are racing on a freeway, causing driver C to crash into a ditch. If C decides to sue A and wins, A can sue B to pay for a portion of the damages since they were both at fault.
Indemnity allows a defendant to sue other parties for the entire amount of the damages. However, indemnity can only be used where the defendant is completely not at fault. For example, suppose a waiter punches a customer, and the customer sues the restaurant and wins a $10,000 judgment. The restaurant can sue the waiter for the entire $10,000, since it was the waiter?s fault for hitting the customer.
It is a plaintiff?s prerogative to sue whomever they choose, even if more than one person may be responsible for their injuries. Therefore, if a defendant feels like they are being singled out in a personal injury claim, their only recourse is to sue other parties whom they feel are jointly responsible.
If you have been found liable for a personal injury claim, a personal injury attorney can help you institute contribution or indemnity actions against other parties you feel are responsible. A lawyer can also help estimate the amount of contribution you should expect, should your claim be successful.