Joint and Several Liability

Means that a number of people are jointly liable for a debt or claim. Joint and several liability can arise under a contract, but also as a result of certain torts. Where two or more persons or entities act in concert to violate another’s rights, they may be jointly and severally liable for all of the victim’s injuries, regardless of whose conduct caused most of the damage, under a principle sometimes referred to as co-conspirator liability. ‘Joint’ therefore means that they can be collectively sued for all the damages; ‘severally’ means that they can be individually sued for all the damages.

Thus for example, in some legal systems, all members of a cartel may be held individually liable in toto for a victim’s damages, regardless of the degree of their individual dealings with that victim. A party held jointly and severally liable in such a way can bring suit against the other ‘joint obligors’ for contribution, i.e., that they should pay to the party held liable the share of the damages they were forced to pay. In most jurisdictions, each of a group of joint and several obligors can be sued separately, i.e., the plaintiff does not have to file a claim against all.

However, a few jurisdictions do require all joint obligors to be named as defendants, while many have a rule that provides that a release of any one joint obligor without specifically reserving the putative plaintiff’s rights against the remaining obligors, acts as a release of all the obligors. A defendant in a case where there is joint and several liability can also usually implead any absent obligors.