What Is Joint and Several Liability?
April 18, 2018
Joint and Several liability* is a legal concept that is relevant in tort or personal injury lawsuits brought against defendants in states that recognize this legal provision. The concept allows a plaintiff to recover all the damages from any of the defendants named in a claim, regardless of their individual share of the liability.
Under joint and several liability, a plaintiff may legally pursue compensation against any one party as if they were jointly liable. With joint and several restitution, it becomes the responsibility of the defendants to sort out their respective proportions of liability and payment, which could be split among multiple parties or could come from just one party.
Florida Abolished Joint and Several Liability
On April 26, 2006, Florida joined the minority of jurisdictions in the United States by eliminating the last vestige of joint and several liability. Florida Statutes § 768.81 previously allowed for Joint and Several liability in certain circumstances based on percentage of fault and amount of damages. The newly revised § 768.81 contains no provisions for joint and several liability. Lobbied by big businesses in the state for nearly twenty years, the move brings dramatic change and controversy to the state's legal processes.
Whether or not the plaintiff has been made whole, the defendants in a personal injury lawsuit will only be responsible for their percentage of liability under Florida law. Unless every responsible defendant has the funds to cover their respective apportionment of damages, the defendant may not be able to be made whole. Conversely, if joint and several liability still existed in Florida, it would benefit the plaintiff in collecting the damages they are awarded, despite one defendant's lack of funds.
Seek Legal Counsel Immediately Following Any Personal Injury
The change in Florida statutes makes it more difficult for the victim of personal injury to understand or know what to do when seeking restitution for damages. No longer will the total dollar amount of the damages and the strength of the case be the sole determining factors for subrogation. If more than one responsible party is involved but only one party is collectible, the potential for compensation has to be weighed solely against each potential defendant's ability to pay. Legal anomalies are why it is crucial for you to seek the advice of an attorney as soon as possible following any accident to discuss your options for pursuing a personal injury claim.
*NOTE: Neither "comparative negligence" nor "contributory negligence" should be confused with "joint and several" liability, which generally holds each of two or more culpable defendants responsible for all the damages sustained by a plaintiff.