In personal injury cases, "liability" means that a defendant is legally responsible for the plaintiff’s injuries or accident. Liability becomes complicated when there are multiple people responsible for the injury.
There are three types of liability:
- Joint Liability
- Several Liability
- Joint and Several Liability
Joint liability means that more than one defendant is liable for the plaintiff’s injury. With joint liability, each defendant is fully liable for the total amount of damages.
For example, suppose that a doctor and nurse are jointly liable for a patient’s medical malpractice injuries. If one defendant is unable to pay or passes away, the other party is liable for the full amount.
If one person pays for the full amount, the other defendant can’t be sued for the amount (or else the plaintiff will have been compensated twice).
Several liability is when multiple defendants are each held individually liable for the damage they caused.
For example, if three doctors were severally liable for damages, then each would be responsible for a certain percentage of the damages. This can sometimes be more difficult to calculate and may requireexpert testimony to determine.
"Joint and several liability" is when the plaintiff sues the defendants as a whole.
However, the difference here is that the defendants are left to determine how much each individual person is responsible for.
For example, if the doctors believe one is completely responsible, then that doctor will be liable for all the damages. But, if that doctor disagrees, then he can file a separate lawsuit against the other doctors to get contributions.
Liability may be determined using a variety of approaches. This will depend on the type of injury.
- For automobile accidents, the physical evidence of the cars is often a key factor.
- For medical malpractice suits, the medical records and testimony of doctors can be major points of review.
Every U.S. state has different laws when it comes to multiple defendants in a single lawsuit. Some apply joint liability, others only apply joint and several liability. These are complex determinations that are best left to the analysis of a legal professional.
Proving fault in a personal injury case can also be complicated by other matters. These can include issues like:
- Previous injuries
- Insurance options
- Contributory negligence
Yes. Liability can be complicated and assistance from a personal injury lawyer can be helpful. Your attorney can help determine how the liability laws in your area apply to your case (they are different in each area).