How Does Joint and Several Liability Affect My PI Claim?

North Carolina is one of seven states that follow pure joint and several liability. The legal term applies in personal injury cases when multiple parties are responsible for causing injury or damage.

When an accident is caused by negligence or an intentional act of another, an injured person may have the right to seek compensation to recover their losses.

Joint and several liability allows the injured person to seek the full value of the monetary award from any of the responsible parties.

One of our attorneys at Jetton & Meredith, PLLC can evaluate your personal injury case to determine whether you have grounds for legal action.

Multiple Parties Can Bear Responsibility for an Accident

A personal injury case is not necessarily the fault of one party. From car accidents and boating accidents to slip and fall and dog bite injuries, the actions or inactions of multiple people might have resulted in the accident. Sometimes two or more parties act in concert with one another. In other situations, the parties committed separate and unrelated wrongs that caused the injury or damage to occur. Either way, all responsible parties can be sued.

One Defendant Can Be Financially Responsible for All Damages in NC

In joint and several liability, any one of the responsible parties can be required to pay the entire amount of the damages no matter their percentage of the blame. This legal principle benefits the plaintiff – the injured person – because they are more likely to receive their full award.

When there are multiple defendants in a case, chances are higher that at least one of them has the personal means or insurance to cover the cost of the damages. Joint and several liability is designed to improve the ability of the plaintiff to be made whole, to be fully compensated for their costs incurred after an accident.

A minor percentage of states use pure joint and several liability. This issue isn’t the only matter where the Tarheel State is a bit of an outlier. Only four other states use pure contributory negligence rules. An injured person can only pursue compensation if they are in no way, not even 1%, responsible for how the injury occurred.

In addition to North Carolina, these states also follow pure joint and several liability:

  • Alabama
  • Delaware
  • Maryland
  • Massachusetts
  • Rhode Island
  • Virginia

North Carolina courts do not assign fault between tortfeasors found to be jointly and severally liable. A plaintiff can sue all the responsible parties collectively, sue them separately, or only take action against one. The path the plaintiff chooses is critical because they can only have one award. The first award bars any further claims.

Situations exist where one defendant chooses to settle while another one goes to trial. Any award granted at trial will be reduced by the amount paid by the settling joint.

Neighboring States Follow Different Rules

Virginia is similar to North Carolina, but our other neighbors follow alternative principles. Our eastern neighbor Tennessee is one of 14 states that follow pure several liability. Each defendant is responsible only for their assigned portion of the damages. If someone is 20% at fault for the accident, they will only pay 20% of the total award. The defendant cannot be required to pay more than their share.

South Carolina is among 29 states that follow modified joint and several liability. The defendant can only be required to pay the full damages if their percentage of responsibility is above a certain threshold. In South Carolina, the defendant can be liable for all indivisible damages if their contribution to the accident is 50% or greater.

Defendants Can Seek Contribution from Other Wrong-Doers

If one defendant pays for all damages, that defendant has the right to contribution. They can sue the other responsible parties to recover what they paid in excess of their share of the liability. Contribution is not allowed if the tortfeasor intentionally helped cause the injury.

Understand Your Rights in Personal Injury Cases

At Jetton & Meredith, PLLC, we have extensive experience and understanding of North Carolina personal injury laws. If you have been injured in an accident through no fault of your own, we can help.

The financial, physical, and emotional tolls of an accident can ripple for years, even the rest of your life. We know there are costs that money cannot repair, yet a financial judgment can ease the burden and help you move forward.

Talk to one of our personal injury attorneys about your case. You pay us nothing unless we recover compensation for you. Call (704) 931-5535 or reach out online to schedule a consultation.