Joint and Several Liability - How it Applies in Georgia

Joint and several liability is common in civil and personal injury cases but does not apply in the state of Georgia, thanks to tort reform in 2005.

Joint and several liability holds two or more parties collectively responsible for damages awarded by a judgment. The winning victim (or plaintiff) may collect their entire judgment from any one of the liable parties or from all of the liable parties, in various amounts, until the judgment is paid in full. If any of the defendants can't pay their equal share of the award, the other defendants must make up the difference. In personal injury law, the phrase "joint and several liability" describes the responsibility that each person has when their combined actions caused the same injury. The phrase is a combination of two separate types of liability: "joint liability," in which each involved person is responsible for the full cost of the injury, and "several liability," in which each involved person is only responsible for the amount of the injury he personally caused. Joint and several liability often appears in personal injury law, particularly in negligence cases. Moreover, if two individuals are jointly and severally liable for a negligent act, the person who was harmed may sue any one of the involved parties, regardless as to each party's individual share in the liability. Joint and several liability greatly favors plaintiffs because it provides the greatest possibility for recovering the full judgment amount.

For example, if you were involved in an accident with a semi-truck, and you were awarded a judgment of $5 million against the driver and the trucking company, under joint and several liability both of the involved parties would be collectively liable for the full judgment amount. If the driver died or did not have any money, then the trucking company would be responsible for paying you the full $5 million. The trucking company could then turn around and sue the driver or his estate to force contribution to the amount that they had to pay.

In contrast, under joint liability, the court might determine that the driver was 80% responsible and the trucking company was only 20% responsible for the accident. However, they would be 100% liable for the full judgment amount individually. If the driver were unable to pay for any reason, then the trucking company would have to pay the full $5 million and would have no recourse against the driver.

Under several liability, if the driver could not pay, then the trucking company would still only be responsible for their portion of the judgment, or $1 million. The courts could order the driver to pay the balance, but if it were determined that he was unable to pay, then you would only receive what the trucking company contributed. This is the current law in Georgia.

If you or someone you love has been injured through no fault of their own due to the negligence of others, contact The Law Offices of Casey W. Stevens for a free case evaluation to determine how joint and several liability might apply to your case.

Contact our office today for your free case evaluation! (770)408-6364