Joint And Several Liability Definition Under Tennessee State Law

Joint and several liability in civil cases are ways of determining who pays damages when more than one party is responsible for the plaintiff’s injury. In general, this is a way of dividing the payment of damages among responsible parties. These parties can be jointly liable, severally liable, or jointly and severally liable. Before we explain how they might affect you, we will start with the joint and several liability definitions.

What is joint liability?

Joint liability applies when two parties share liability for a debt or action. For example, if drivers A and B cause an accident and injure driver C, C can recover damages from both A and B. If C’s damages totaled $50,000, A and B would together pay $50,000.

What is several liability?

Several liability is another way of saying separately liable. Tennessee civil law operates under a comparative fault system, in which a court will assign damages according to the share of fault each party had in the plaintiff’s injury. If the parties are severally liable, it means they are responsible only for the percentage of damages corresponding to his or her own fault.

Consider our example from above. In this situation, driver A sideswipes driver C. Once driver C has stopped, driver B rear-ends driver C. Driver C could hold both drivers severally liable for injuries sustained.

So, what is joint and several liability?

This means the parties are both jointly and separately responsible for damages to the plaintiff. In tort law, this means multiple parties may be responsible for the full damages regardless of the extent to which they are at fault.

For example, in an accident involving a commercial truck, the court might determine the company that owns the truck is 60 percent at fault because it failed to properly train the driver, and a parts manufacturer was 40 percent at fault because a defective part contributed to the accident. Under joint and several liability, the parts manufacturer could be responsible for the entirety of the damages if the trucking company is unable to pay.

How will joint and several liability affect my accident claim?

Joint and several liability allows you to recover full compensation even if one of the liable parties is insolvent.

However, Tennessee lawmakers in recent years have moved to limit the extent to which joint and several liability is applicable in civil actions. Tennessee State Code 29-11-107 states that in cases where comparative fault applies, “a defendant shall only be severally liable for the percentage of damages for which fault is attributed to such defendant.”

You can only hold parties joint and severally liable in cases in a civil conspiracy or in a strict product liability or breach of warranty claim.  

Schedule a free consultation with a Knoxville accident lawyer today.

Joint and several liability cases are complex. A Tennessee car accident attorney will know which kind of liability is most applicable to your case, and how to use the law to get you the damages you deserve, no matter which party ends up paying for it. For help in the Knoxville area, call the Law Offices of Ogle, Elrod & Baril PLLC at 865-546-1111 for a free consultation.