Joint and Several Liability in California
The doctrine of joint and several liability applies in a personal injury case when one or more defendants are deemed responsible for the accident that caused the victim’s injury.
Joint and several liability mean that the victim can pursue litigation against multiple people even when each one caused only a small percentage of the harm.
At-fault parties are liable both “jointly” (for all damages) and “severally” (for the specific damages they caused).
This allows the victim to collect the entire judgment from any of the liable parties, and those parties would then be responsible for going after the other negligent parties for reimbursement.
California’s use of this doctrine is outlined in California Civil Code Section 1431. While California recognizes the doctrine, it limits its application to only certain types of damages.
Economic vs Non Economic Damage Recovery
In California, while joint liability applies to economic damages, defendants are only severely liable for noneconomic damages. That is, they are responsible only for the portion of noneconomic damages directly attributable to them.
Economic damages include actual expenses incurred because of the accident. These can include medical costs, property damage, lost wages, ongoing treatment, and more.
All negligence parties can be held responsible for the total amount of economic damages.
Noneconomic damages refer to the mental and emotional damage that the accident has caused.
Depending on the circumstances and severity of the accident, these may include pain and suffering, mental anguish, depression, post-traumatic stress, loss of enjoyment of life, and more.
Defendants are not jointly responsible for noneconomic damages. Each negligent party is responsible for noneconomic damages according to their percentage of fault in causing the injury.
Examples of Joint and Several Liability in California
There are countless scenarios where joint and several liability may apply, including if you were injured in an accident caused by the negligence of more than one person or entity.
One common reason to invoke the doctrine of joint and several liability arises when a victim is struck by two or more vehicles, both causing injury. In this case, both drivers may share liability.
Negligent driving paired with a mechanical malfunction could also cause both the driver and vehicle or part manufacturer to be liable for damages.
Likewise, medical malpractice, slip and fall, and many other personal injury circumstances could have multiple defendants.
If there are two or more defendants, the victim has options to invoke California joint and several liability as a method of receiving compensation for damages.
Strategic Use of Joint and Several Liability in California
Joint and several liability allow the victim an opportunity to choose whom to collect a personal injury judgment against. This is important when one party has significantly fewer resources to cover expenses.
If Driver A and Driver B both caused the accident, regardless of who was most at fault, the victim can choose how to pursue recovery. The three options include:
- Collect all economic damages from Driver A;
- Collect all economic damages from Driver B; or
- Collect damages from both Driver A and Driver B, up to the total amount of the judgment.
If Driver A has the financial ability to pay and Driver B has significantly less, the victim can opt to collect economic damages against Driver A only. Driver A would then be responsible for recovering reimbursement from Driver B, even if Driver B was more at fault.
An experienced personal injury lawyer will understand the best option for your unique situation given the circumstances of your injury and the financial situations of the defendants.
Filing Your Personal Injury Case With Starpoint Law, LC
One of the biggest concerns for many people, when they consider taking legal action, is whether their case will succeed.
The experienced team of personal injury lawyers at Startpoint Law, LC only takes cases we are confident we will win. In fact, we’ve never lost a case.