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What is Joint and Several Liability?

During a personal injury claim, you may come across the term ‘joint and several liability.’ It is a legal principle that holds that each individual defendant in a personal injury case can be held individually liable for the entire accident. In California, there are special rules and regulations in place regarding joint and several liability. Below, our Oakland personal injury attorney provides a more comprehensive guide to joint and several liability in California,

Background: California is a Comparative Negligence State

As a starting point, it is important to understand that California is a pure comparative negligence jurisdiction. Under state law, each party to an accident will be held liable for their assigned share of the fault. For example, imagine that you were involved in a bicycle accident in the Bay Area.

An investigation reveals that two different motorists bear fault for the collision. The first driver is assigned 75% of the blame and the second driver is assigned 25% of the blame. Under the pure comparative fault system, the first driver would be liable for 75% of your damages and the second driver would be liable for the remaining 25%.

Joint and Several Liability: Understanding the Basics

As described by the Cornell Legal Information Institute, joint and several liability is a legal principle that can come into play in cases in which there are two or more defendants. The doctrine holds that “each party is independently liable for the full extent of the injuries stemming from the tortious act.”

In other words, the parties to an accident are held “jointly” liable. However, that liability is also “severable”—meaning that if one party cannot pay, the other party can be held responsible for the full value of the victim’s damages.

Joint and Several Liability in California: Economic Damages vs. Non-Economic Damages

California has specialized rules and regulations in place for joint and several liability. The general rule in California is that the joint and several liability doctrine only applies to economic damages. If there is a personal injury with multiple defendants, the defendants can be held jointly and severally liable for the full extent of the victim’s economic damages. This includes property damage, medical bills, and lost wages.

However, joint and several liability does not apply to non-economic damages. In California, the general rule is that defendants are only severely (separately) liable for their proportionate share of the non-economic damages. Defendants are typically not joint and severally liable for non-economic damages such as pain and suffering in California. They are only responsible for their assigned share of the fault.

Speak to a Personal Injury Attorney in the San Francisco Bay Area

If you have been injured in an accident, you need a skilled Oakland personal injury lawyer on your side. Bracamontes & Vlasak is a boutique law firm that gets results. Call us now at 415.835.6777 or contact us here for your free case review. We fight for the rights of injured victims in Oakland and throughout the San Francisco Bay Area.