Legal Theories in Personal Injury Cases

After a personal injury, you may see or hear the phrase joint and several liability. It’s a legal concept that determines who pays for what in a case where multiple parties contribute to someone’s personal injury. Nevada law is a little bit unique. In most cases, only several liability applies.

Although this is generally the case, there are some key exceptions. If you have sustained injuries after an accident, it’s important to familiarize yourself with any legal concept that may apply in your case. This will help you better identify what you will need to do to get the maximum compensation available and recover so you can get on with your life. Here’s what you need to know about joint and several liability in Nevada personal injury cases.

Understanding Joint and Several Liability

You’ve probably heard the phrase joint and several liability as one long phrase. They’re actually two different concepts. The distinction matters because Nevada is one of several states that distinguishes between joint liability and several liability.

What Is Joint Liability?

Joint liability is the idea that multiple parties can be liable for the full amount of the injured person’s damages. When there are multiple defendants, and joint liability applies, each party is responsible to the victim for the entire amount of their losses. It doesn’t matter who pays the victim. While the victim can only recover once, any and all responsible parties are on the hook for the entire amount.

What Is Several Liability

Several liability means apportioning liability among the people responsible. When several liability applies, a responsible party is only on the hook for their share of the victim’s losses. If another responsible party doesn’t pay their share, the victim can’t look to the other defendants to pick up the slack and cover the non-paying defendant. Instead, the victim has to collect from each responsible defendant separately.

Some Examples

For example, let’s say Pat, Kat, and Matt are all parties in a personal injury lawsuit. Pat and Kat act negligently to cause the accident. Matt has injuries.

Matt brings a lawsuit against Pat and Kat to recover for his damages. The jury decides that Pat is 30 percent responsible for Matt’s injuries. Kat is 70 percent liable. The total damages amount to $50,000.

In a case where joint liability applies, both Pat and Kat must pay for Matt’s damages. Whether each party pays $25,000 or one party pays the entire $50,000, both parties are legally responsible for paying the full amount. If one party ends up paying the full judgment, they can seek contribution from the other to pay their share.

If several liability applies, the victim must collect from each defendant for their share. In the case of Pat and Kat, Pat’s 30 percent responsibility amounts to $15,000. That’s all Pat has to pay. Kat’s 70 percent liability is $35,000. Even if Kat doesn’t pay the judgment, there’s nothing Matt can do to make Pat pay Kat’s share when several liability applies.

Nevada Law

Nevada law uses a system of modified comparative negligence. Nevada Revised Statute 41.141 is the relevant law. In most negligence cases, only several liability applies in Nevada. That means the victim has to look at each responsible party to recover for that defendant’s share of the victim’s losses.

When Does Joint Liability Apply in Nevada?

Discussing Joint and Several Liability

There are a few situations in Nevada where joint liability still applies. When the defendant’s liability is strict liability, they have to pay the entire amount. When a defendant acts intentionally to injure a victim or when two or more people conspire to act together, joint liability applies. It also applies in cases of toxic or hazardous substances and product liability cases. However, only several liability applies in most negligence cases including many car accidents.

Negligent and Intentional Actors – The Cafe Moda Case

One interesting question is what happens when an incident involves both negligent and intentional actors. The Nevada courts answered this question in Cafe Moda, LLC v. Palma (2012). In that case, the victim and another individual go to Cafe Moda as customers. While there, the victim and the other patron get in a fight. The other patron stabs the victim.

The victim brings a case against both the other patron and against Cafe Moda. The victim wants Cafe Moda to share joint and several liability for the victim’s injuries. The jury decides that the patron acted intentionally to cause the victim’s injuries. They said that Cafe Moda’s actions amount only to negligence. Also, the jury said that Cafe Moda is only 20 percent liable for the victim’s injuries.

The Nevada courts say that in a case like this, only the defendant that acts intentionally is 100 percent liable for the victim’s injuries. They say that it’s unfair to impose 100 percent liability on a party that only acts negligently just because another responsible party acts intentionally. The court in the Cafe Moda case required the cafe to pay only 20 percent of the victim’s damages under Nevada’s several liability law.

What’s Comparative Negligence?

It’s important to understand the difference between joint and several liability and comparative negligence. Nevada law 41.141 also talks about comparative negligence. Comparative negligence is the idea that a victim can be partially to blame for their own injuries. When that happens, the victim doesn’t recover for the portion of their damages that represents their own responsibility for the accident. If the victim is more than 50 percent responsible for what happened, they can’t recover at all.

If comparative negligence applies, it reduces the total amount that the victim can recover from the responsible parties. Comparative negligence is similar to several liability. However, the other responsible party is the plaintiff in the action. Comparative negligence may completely bar a plaintiff’s recovery if they’re more than 50 percent at fault.

How Can an Attorney Help?

Joint and several liability under Nevada law can make a personal injury case more complicated. In some cases, it can create unique challenges for a victim. When joint or several liability may be an issue in your case, a qualified Las Vegas personal injury attorney can help you evaluate and pursue your case in light of how these legal concepts might impact your claim.

It’s important to clearly present the matter to the jury and give them the evidence to apportion fault in the way that’s most favorable to you. When several liability applies, your attorney can help you prepare a strategy to collect your judgment from the responsible parties as quickly as possible. They can work with you to help you understand how the law applies and what you should do to maximize your claim.