The concept of joint and several liability means each defendant in a legal action is responsible for the entire amount of damages that the plaintiff pursues, regardless of the degree to which each defendant is responsible for those damages. For instance, if three people are responsible for an accident, the injured party may pursue any one of the individuals for the full amount of damages, not just the amount for which that person was proportionally responsible.
In 1995, Hawaii eliminated joint and several liability except in certain circumstances. Liability for both economic loss in personal injury or wrongful death cases is still joint and several. Intentional wrongful acts (called torts) are also subject to joint and several liability, as are torts related to environmental pollution, toxins or asbestos, aircraft accidents, products liability and motor vehicle accidents. Liability for non-economic loss in personal injury cases is joint and several only if the defendant (called the tortfeasor in legal terms) is at least 25 percent responsible for the injury.
The modified joint and several liability statute that Hawaii now follows allows victims to be fully compensated for serious injury, even if some of the responsible parties are unable to pay their share. Tortfeasors who are less than 25 percent responsible for an injury are only liable for non-economic damages in proportion to their level of responsibility.
Some critics of joint and several liability believe it allows plaintiffs to unfairly pursue defendants with the most likely ability to pay rather than pursuing any and all responsible parties.
Posted in Personal Injury
By Marty Fritz