Personal injury laws in California ensure that injured parties receive adequate compensation to cater to their monetary and non-monetary damages. In cases with more than one defendant, civil court judges use joint and several liability laws in awarding compensation. These laws ensure that every defendant is liable for their share of the plaintiff's economic damages. This way, the victim can recover compensation even when one or more defendants do not have sufficient funds to cover their share of responsibility.
In cases like these, multiple defendants in one personal injury case are jointly accountable for the victim's economic damages but are separately liable for the victim's non-monetary damages. We will discuss joint and several liability further in this text and how they can affect your situation if you suffer a personal injury and are filing a lawsuit for compensation. For more information and guidance, talk to a competent personal injury attorney.
What Joint and Several Liability is All About
If you suffer a personal injury and have lost a lot, you probably want to pursue compensation against the responsible party. Personal injury laws would allow this, mainly if your injury occurred due to another party's negligence. The negligent party will be liable for all your damages, and the judge will order them to compensate you for your losses. Sadly, personal injury lawsuits are not as straightforward as they sound. The law itself is complicated, prompting you to seek legal help to navigate it successfully.
The complexities of personal injury laws come from several statutes, rules, and conditions that civil court judges must consider and adhere to, to ensure that they make a fair ruling by the end of each case. The statutes, rules, and conditions vary from one case to the other based on the circumstances of a claim. For instance, some personal injury lawsuits are straightforward. The plaintiff quickly identifies the responsible party, files a lawsuit against the defendant or their insurance provider, and receives compensation for their losses. But, some cases are complicated, especially those that involve more than one defendant.
When a person incurs a personal injury, investigations into the cause of the accident in which the person was injured are necessary. They help to identify a responsible party. Sometimes, you will realize that more than one person is accountable for the accident. As a plaintiff, you will not file a lawsuit against one party, leaving out the rest of the defendants, because this party is partly responsible for your injuries. You must file a lawsuit against all liable parties to recover total compensation for your injuries.
This is where joint and several liability statutes come in. It means that you (the plaintiff) can file a claim against multiple parties responsible for your injuries, even if one or a few of them played a minor role in causing the accident. The party responsible for only a small percentage of your injuries can go after other responsible parties for compensation. The idea here is to maximize your compensation to ensure at least you recover everything you have lost in the accident.
Joint and several liability is a doctrine that has been used for many years. It intends to protect plaintiffs that face challenges when pursuing compensation after suffering a personal injury. It also ensures that everyone responsible for an accident is responsible, but their percentage of responsibility is small. Every defendant is liable for their share in the injury. Even though the primary defendant in your case is incapable of paying total compensation, you will still be able to recover your damages from other defendants.
Remember that you will require proof of how each defendant contributed to the accident in which you were injured. Thus, suing multiple parties in one case does not necessarily mean they are responsible in the same manner. Two people cannot act the same in causing an accident. The accident will be a result of their combined conduct.
Fortunately for you, if you sustain a personal injury in Los Angeles due to combined liability, you could file a claim in a civil court against the responsible parties to obtain a verdict against them. You will recover compensation for your monetary damages.
When Does Joint and Several Liability Apply
California law uses a modified version of this statute. In this modified version, multiple defendants can be jointly liable for the total amount a plaintiff has suffered in monetary damages. Still, they are only separately or severally accountable for the plaintiff's non-monetary damages according to their share of fault in the accident.
Monetary damages are the losses incurred in an accident to which an amount can be attached. They are the direct economic losses you have incurred due to the accident. They cover all financial expenses you have paid out of your pocket up to the time you obtain compensation and those you will incur in the future.
Economic damages in a personal injury case could include the following:
They comprise all expenses incurred for your medical needs after the personal injury. They could include the cost of emergency medical services, doctor's consultation fee, hospital admission fee, transportation to and from the hospital, cost of medicine, and any other medical procedure you require to recover from your injuries.
Remember that you must include any future medical needs you have in your claim. If you require further treatment or are still undergoing rehabilitation and therapy, all those costs must be included in your medical bills.
These include all wages and incomes you have lost due to your injury. That counts if you were hospitalized right after the accident and could not go to work for a few days or weeks. You could also have remained at home for a few more days or weeks to recover fully from your injuries. In those days, you did not work in any gainful employment and did not earn anything. Lost income is calculated according to the amount of money you make in a day, multiplied by the number of days you missed work due to your injuries.
This category will include any property of value that you lost in the accident. It could be your car, laptop, phone, or other personal property.
Lost Earning Ability
Some personal injuries will leave you nursing permanent disabilities that would make it hard for you to engage in any gainful employment. You will include this category under your economic damages if that happens to you. Due to your injury, you cannot work at all or can not work in the same capacity you did before the accident.
Remember that if more than one party were responsible for your injuries, they would share your economic damages. The judge will ensure that one or each contributes a share of your monetary damages to the last penny. Any defendant can pay the total amount in your claim after you have proven your losses in court at the end of your trial.
Example: Esther sustained injuries in a road accident. During the accident investigation stage, she determined that the accident was the fault of three drivers. All three acted negligently in causing her injuries. Esther filed a lawsuit against the three drivers, and the judge awarded her a compensation of $100,000 for her economic damages. Esther can recover compensation from the three drivers. They will determine how each will contribute towards the target amount through a contribution claim.
A Contribution Claim
After a civil court's judgment on how much compensation multiple defendants in a personal injury lawsuit must pay, the defendants go through another legal action called a contribution claim. The legal action is only brought against the defendants without the plaintiff. If one party takes full responsibility for the plaintiff's economic damages, they can file a suit against the remaining defendants for their share of fault in the accident.
Note that this legal action is only available if all the defendants were negligently liable for the accident. If it is established that one defendant willfully caused the accident, that defendant alone will be responsible for the plaintiff's damages.
Remember that the judge's word is final in cases like these. If you file a lawsuit in a civil court, the jury or judge makes the final ruling in every matter. You are only required to file a suit against the responsible parties and support your claim with solid evidence.
When a civil lawsuit proceeds to trial, the jury or judge will establish the share of fault for all defendants in your case. The judge's or jury's decision is based on all evidence presented in the court. When the judge issues the verdict on your case, one party will be tasked with paying the entire amount, and then they can claim compensation from the other defendants in a contribution claim.
During the contribution hearing, the defendants will sue each other for compensation in the amount each defendant must pay according to their share of responsibility in the accident.
Example: Three friends are racing on a highway one afternoon when a vehicle comes onto them out of nowhere. Its occupant, Sally, is severely injured in the accident. She files a lawsuit against the three in a civil court for compensation. In the trial, the judge awards Sally $200,000 for her economic damages. The three friends are jointly responsible for Sally's monetary damages in varying percentages. Friend 1 is 60% responsible, while Friends 2 and 3 are 20% to blame for the accident.
Friend 1 pays the total amount to Sally in a bid to recover part of the money from his friends in a contribution claim. In the contribution action, Friends 2 and 3 must each pay 20% of their share of the amount to Friend 1.
When Does Joint and Several Liability Inapplicable
The joint and several liability principle does not apply to the non-monetary damages incurred by a plaintiff in an accident. It means that every defendant is separately liable for their share of responsibility in the accident. Remember that the jury or judge establishes a defendant's share of responsibility in an accident. When put together, all the defendants' shares of responsibility must constitute the total economic damages you incurred in the accident.
If one party were liable for the accident, they would be 100% responsible for all economic and non-economic losses you incurred in the accident. But in cases where more than one party is liable for the accident, each will be partly accountable for the resulting non-monetary damages. Remember that one party can be 100% responsible for all the monetary damages you incurred in the accident but only partially liable for your non-monetary damages.
Non-monetary damages include other damages you incur in an accident for which you do not incur out-of-pocket losses. They are very personal and could be challenging to determine and assign a dollar value. You must demonstrate in court how you incurred non-monetary damages for the jury to award them and assign a monetary value.
Common non-monetary damages in personal injury cases include:
Suffering and pain
Disfigurement or any permanent physical change in your body, including scars
Inconvenience — If you cannot do much of what you are used to doing due to your injuries, like hanging out with friends or even going shopping
Physical impairment like the loss of a body organ or limb
Loss of enjoyment and fun in life — If the accident made it impossible for you to enjoy some of the activities you enjoyed before the injury, like swimming, traveling, and fun moments with your family
Plaintiffs in California are at liberty to include all non-monetary damages they have incurred in an accident. The law does not have caps on your non-monetary damages. Only ensure you list what is reasonable and fair, and the jury will assign a fair amount to your damages. But, medical malpractice lawsuits are exempted from this. California law places a $250,000 cap on your damages for suffering and pain in all cases. When a cap like that exists, the value assigned to your injuries must not exceed the stated amount.
Once you present your claim before a jury and the judge gives the final verdict, stating the amount you must receive in compensation for your non-monetary damages, your next worry should be how the defendants will divide the payment. Remember that every defendant must pay you a share of the non-monetary damages that match their share of responsibility in the accident.
In economic damages, you could receive the entire amount from one defendant, who then files a claim against the other parties for compensation. But it is a little different when it comes to non-monetary damages. You cannot collect the entire amount from one defendant. Each party will be responsible for ensuring that you receive total compensation.
Example: James and John are facing a lawsuit for an accident they jointly caused several months ago. The judge ruled that James is 40% liable for the accident, while John is 60% responsible. The plaintiff is awarded $150,000 in economic damages and $100,000 in non-monetary damages. James or John can offer to pay the entire amount of monetary damages to the plaintiff, then seek compensation from the other party in a contribution claim. However, they must pay their share of payment for the plaintiff's non-monetary damages.
Remember that joint and several liabilities only apply to negligence cases. In the above example, the judge will rule if both John and James were negligent in causing the accident. But in cases where one or both parties were intentional in causing the plaintiff's injuries, the ruling will be different. If multiple parties are intentional in causing an accident where a plaintiff suffers a personal injury, the joint and several liabilities apply to all defendants for both economic and non-monetary damages, not just for monetary damages.
Example: Laura and Tim play a dangerous trick on an old lady down the street where they live. The lady suffers severe physical injuries and remains in hospital for a few weeks. The lady files a claim against them for compensation. Laura and Tim's actions were intentional. Thus, they must compensate the old lady for her economic and non-monetary damages according to joint and several liabilities. Each will be liable for their share of fault in the accident that caused the old lady's injuries.
Find an Experienced Personal Injury Attorney Near Me
Have you or your loved one been injured in an accident in Los Angeles where multiple parties were at fault?
California personal injury laws are a bit complex and challenging to navigate independently. You need help to navigate the legal process, understand joint and several liability statutes and how they could affect your case, and file a winning lawsuit in a civil court. The LA Personal Injury Law Firm team will help you understand your situation and options and support you until you obtain the compensation you deserve. Call us at 310-935-0089 to understand more about your case and our services.