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Multiple Defendants? Joint and Several Liability is the Answer

If Bobby and Billy are driving down Massachusetts Avenue and both of their cars hit Susie's van while she's making a left turn, who has to pay for the damage?

It's a trick question. They can both be liable under joint and several liability.

While it's comforting to know that you can hold multiple people accountable for your injuries, the details of how it works can get complicated. How do you divide the damage or determine who owes what? And what if one person can't pay the bill? Don't worry, the answers will soon be made clear.

Since Massachusetts law allows for joint and several liability, you don't have to decide whom to sue or how much to sue each defendant for.

You sue anyone who was a direct cause of the injury.

If you win in court, then both defendants are liable for the debt. It's not an issue of proportionality; they both owe you the full amount.

But plaintiffs can't collect twice for one injury.

If the amount awarded by the court is $1,000, then the plaintiff gets $1,000. It doesn't matter if the defendants each pay half or one person pays all of it. That's a huge benefit if one defendant can't afford to pay.

Of course, the defendant who has to pay everything can then turn around and sue the second defendant for his share of the damages. Happily, the plaintiff doesn't have to deal with that.

There are some conditions on suing multiple defendants. If more than one party is named in a lawsuit, the plaintiff has to prove that both parties caused the injury.

It's not enough that one person caused the injury and another person exacerbated it. You have to be prove that each would have caused damage independent of the other.

Most often, joint and several liability applies to defective products. It may be that the manufacturer made a defective part and an inspector negligently approved it. Or perhaps a product with multiple pieces had several defective parts that would have caused failure.

Figuring out whom to sue is complicated and if you overlook someone, it can cost you in the long term. Don't try go it alone, get an attorney to help you hold the defendants liable.

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