Joint and Several Liability Explained

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A common question I get is whether North Carolina follows joint and several liability.  The answer is “Yes.”  (See…lawyers don’t always answer with: ”it depends”). 

The next question I get is what does it mean. 

In short, joint and several liability arises when there are multiple defendants and the jury finds that each of those defendants were at fault and their fault was a cause of a plaintiff’s injuries.  There is no apportionment of fault with joint and several liability.

To illustrate, let’s take a simple negligence case where there are 2 defendants and a $100,000 jury verdict.  The jury determines that both defendants were at fault (negligent) and their fault was a cause of plaintiff’s damages.  The jury doesn’t determine percentages of fault or which defendant was more at fault.  Rather, both defendants are “jointly and severally liable” for the $100,000.  That means plaintiff can recover the entire $100,000 from both ($50,000 each) or the entire $100,000 from just one defendant.  If the plaintiff recovers from just one defendant then that defendant has a right of contribution against the other defendant to try and collect its share (up to $50,000 in this example).