Joint and several liability in Texas torts

If you are involved in a car accident with one other car, then the issue of who was at fault will boil down to application of the Texas law of comparative negligence to the facts of the accident. But what happens if more than one other driver was involved in the accident, and two or more of them caused your harm? How does the law work in this situation with regard to allocation of fault?

It used to be, under the “common law” doctrine of joint and several liability that a legal theory known as joint and several liability would apply. This meant that as a plaintiff against multiple defendants you could collect part or all of your money damages from any one of multiple defendants, or from any combination of them. For example, if two other drivers were at fault for the accident, and the jury found that one of them was 70 percent at fault and the other was 30 percent to blame, joint and several liability would have allowed you to recover the entire judgment against either of them individually or to pursue damages against both.

Joint and several liability was the subject of considerable criticism for its potentially unfair outcome of forcing one defendant to bear the entire burden of paying damages even though others were involved.

The Connecticut state government has recognized this problem and has enacted a statutory law that displaces the old common law doctrine. Today, all defendants are severally liable for their percentage of fault. Exception to this general rule can occur if the plaintiff is unable to collect a defendant’s share of the damages award within one year of either the final judgment or when the last appeal is resolved, whichever takes place later. In that case, the court can reallocate the unpaid damages among the other defendants.

Thus, at the end of trial the award of damages will work as follows:

  1. The plaintiff’s share of negligence, measured as a percentage, will be subtracted from the damages award (this assumes that the plaintiff was not more at fault than all of the defendants combined, in which case the state’s comparative negligence law would preclude any recovery).
  2. Each of the liable defendants will be responsible to pay his share of the damages, again measured by the percentage of each defendant’s overall negligence.
  3. If it becomes necessary, the court can reallocate unpaid damages of any defendant among the other defendants.

The subject of several liability among defendants is one that your personal injury attorney can help you to understand better, as well as answering any other questions that you may have during the process of either settling or negotiating your claim for compensation.