What Is Joint and Several Liability?

Joint and Several Liability Explained

Joint and several liability is a legal scenario in which two or more persons bear obligation jointly and individually.

Damages or losses caused by more than one liable person occur under a legal concept known as joint and several responsibility. The regulation permits a plaintiff to launch a case against all culpable parties, or just one. Some state rules allocate proportionate culpability to guilty defendants, while others enable one defendant to assume the duty of paying a penalty.

Let’s take a deeper look at joint and several liability and how and when it may come into play.

Definition and Examples of Joint and Several Liability

Joint and several liability is a legal scenario in which two or more persons bear obligation jointly and individually. Joint and several responsibility permits a plaintiff to sue all liable parties jointly, or individually, making it feasible for a plaintiff to recover a whole judgment from all defendants or just one.

For example, if a married couple takes out a mortgage to purchase a property, they are jointly and individually liable for paying the debt back. If they divorce but maintain joint ownership of the property, they remain jointly and individually liable for paying the mortgage.

In the situation of multiple responsibility, each person or party is accountable for their share of the obligation. Consider a group of lenders in the instance of a syndicated loan, which asks for numerous lenders to finance a given loan amount. If one of the lenders fails to satisfy its responsibility to the borrower, the borrower might sue that specific lender. The other lenders will not share obligation.

How Joint and Several Liability Works

Joint and several liability lawsuits commonly include toxic tort claims, such as mesothelioma cases originating from asbestos exposure.
1 For instance, if a construction worker encounters asbestos at many job sites that results in mesothelioma, they may pursue a single joint and several responsibility claim against all liable parties.
Toxic tort lawsuits empower victims to claim for lost earnings, medical bills, and pain and suffering.
To qualify as a joint and several claim, more than one party must share culpability. This might require a contractual agreement that defines the common obligation or several agreements that specify the same responsibility.

For example, if two persons jointly take out a loan, then fail on payments, the lender might attempt to recover the money from both participants, or the one who has the greatest assets.

Several Liability

When two or more parties have several liability, they take responsibility for their share of an obligation. For example, if you employ a contractor to construct a home, the contractor will engage subcontractors to accomplish different sections of the project. A tile contractor would retain the several obligation of constructing your bathroom floor, whereas a cabinet subcontractor would simply hold the duty of producing your kitchen cabinets.

Let’s imagine a plumbing subcontractor causes a fire with a blowtorch while your house is under construction. If your contractor agreement states several responsibility for subcontractors, you would have to sue the plumbing subcontractor for the losses.

Joint and Several Liability

Joint and multiple liability clauses lay blame on more than one party. For example, if your contractor agreement includes joint and several responsibility for subcontractor work, you might sue the contractor, plumbing subcontractor, or both for the fire damage.

In joint and several responsibility suits, the plaintiff may seek and secure a judgment against only one defendant. In such instances, the defendant that settles the claim might pursue a claim against the other parties accountable for the plaintiff’s claim.

For instance, if you sue the contractor for the fire damage, and win a judgment, the contractor might sue the plumbing subcontractor for sparking the fire.
Although joint and several responsibility lets a plaintiff to collect an award from only one guilty party, it does not allow them to get double compensation from many defendants.

Comparative Negligence

Comparative negligence is a tort law that allocates degrees of blame to the parties concerned. It’s typically employed in traffic accident claims. 5 For example, while going to work, Julio quickly slams on his brakes, leading Fatima to collide into the rear of his vehicle. Considering the accident was a rear-end collision, Fatima will certainly get a traffic violation.

But, Fatima and Julio’s insurance companies may examine the event and find that both parties share fault for the mishap. They may find that Fatima’s insurance policy should cover 80% of the damages because she was following Julio too closely, and Julio's policy should pay 20% of the losses because he stopped suddenly.

Comparative negligence laws differ by state.

For instance, in Nebraska, situations involving more than one defendant that entail economic losses use joint and several responsibility. Yet defendants only bear several culpability for noneconomic losses, in proportion to their part of the harm committed.

In Missouri joint and several cases, a single defendant must pay a full punitive damages award when proven accountable for at least 51% of the injury produced. Defendants found to cause less than 51% of the injury must only pay the proportion for which they are accountable. Hence, if three defendants are accountable for less than 51% of the injury each, all three must pay their fair part of the judgment.

Pros and Disadvantages of Joint and Several Liability


  • Compensation
  • Deterrence


  • Not always fair
  • Lawsuit expenses

Pros Explained

  • Compensation: Joint and several liability gives a plaintiff the option to seek compensation from more than one responsible party.
  • Deterrence: Joint and several responsibility may assist prevent damage from occuring. Parties that know they can face full liability are more likely to avoid causing harm.

Cons Explained

  • Not always fair: In rare situations, a defendant who bears less blame than another defendant may wind up paying a whole judgment.
  • Litigation costs: In certain countries, joint and several responsibility cases need two court processes, one to assess culpability and another to determine the proportion of blame for each defendant. These lengthy processes raise legal expenses for all parties.
Important Takeaways
  • Joint and several responsibility arises when more than one person is accountable for harm or loss.
  • Joint and several liability allows a plaintiff to sue all responsible parties, or just one.
  • In certain countries, courts utilize comparative negligence when assessing the amount each culpable party must pay.