If a single car rear-ends you when you are stopped at a stoplight, it is easy to assess who is the negligent party.  But what if there are multiple cars involved in the accident?  What if more than one driver is at fault?  This is referred to as “joint and several liability.”

Joint and several liability is defined as a designation of liability by which members of a group are either individually or mutually responsible to a party who has been awarded a judgment.  Two or more people must be found liable.  This means that the winning plaintiff can collect from one or any or all parties until the judgment is paid in full.  If one defendant does not have enough money or assets to pay his or her share of the damages, then the other defendant(s) must pay the difference.  This last sentence has become controversial across the country and many states have changed the way they approach joint and several liability.

The state of Georgia does not follow the notion of joint and several liability.  Juries or courts in Georgia must allocate damages among the negligent parties, but according to O.C.G.A. 51-12-33, one driver cannot be forced to pay another driver’s share of the liability.  If the plaintiff is part of the cause of the accident, he or she can only collect damages if he or she is less than 50 percent at fault.

South Carolina did not abolish joint and several liability, but it did limit when it can be applied.  Like in Georgia, juries or courts must apportion fault among the parties involved.  BUT, according to Section 15-38-15 of the South Carolina Code, a defendant can be held liable for another driver’s portion of the damages ONLY if he or she is found to be 50 percent or more at fault for the accident.  This exception does not apply to defendants found to be willful, wanton, reckless, grossly negligent, or intentional.  It also does not apply if the defendants’ conduct involved the use, sale, or possession of alcohol or illicit or illegal drugs.

Accidents involving multiple cars and joint and several liability can be very confusing and highly qualified personal injury lawyer is a must.  If you or a loved one has been involved in a multi-car accident, please call The Kerr Law Firm at 843-785-3330.  You may also email us at info@kerrlf.com.  We are happy to offer you a free consultation.

 

 

South Carolina Statutes

Chapter 38. SOUTH CAROLINA CONTRIBUTION AMONG TORTFEASORS ACT

§ 15-38-15. Liability of defendant responsible for less than fifty per cent of total fault; apportionment of percentages; willful, wanton, or grossly negligent defendant and alcoholic beverage or drug exceptions

(A) In an action to recover damages resulting from personal injury, wrongful death, or damage to property or to recover damages for economic loss or for noneconomic loss such as mental distress, loss of enjoyment, pain, suffering, loss of reputation, or loss of companionship resulting from tortious conduct, if indivisible damages are determined to be proximately caused by more than one defendant, joint and several liability does not apply to any defendant whose conduct is determined to be less than fifty percent of the total fault for the indivisible damages as compared with the total of: (i) the fault of all the defendants; and (ii) the fault (comparative negligence), if any, of plaintiff. A defendant whose conduct is determined to be less than fifty percent of the total fault shall only be liable for that percentage of the indivisible damages determined by the jury or trier of fact.

(B) Apportionment of percentages of fault among defendants is to be determined as specified in subsection (C).

(C) The jury, or the court if there is no jury, shall:

(1) specify the amount of damages;

(2) determine the percentage of fault, if any, of plaintiff and the amount of recoverable damages under applicable rules concerning “comparative negligence”; and

(3) upon a motion by at least one defendant, where there is a verdict under items (1) and (2) above for damages against two or more defendants for the same indivisible injury, death, or damage to property, specify in a separate verdict under the procedures described at subitem (b) below the percentage of liability that proximately caused the indivisible injury, death, damage to property, or economic loss from tortious conduct, as determined by item (1) above, that is attributable to each defendant whose actions are a proximate cause of the indivisible injury, death, or damage to property. In determining the percentage attributable to each defendant, any fault of the plaintiff, as determined by item (2) above, will be included so that the total of the percentages of fault attributed to the plaintiff and to the defendants must be one hundred percent. In calculating the percentage of fault attributable to each defendant, inclusion of any percentage of fault of the plaintiff (as determined in item (2) above) shall not reduce the amount of plaintiff’s recoverable damages (as determined under item (2) above).

(a) For this purpose, the court may determine that two or more persons are to be treated as a single party. Such treatment must be used where two or more defendants acted in concert or where, by reason of agency, employment, or other legal relationship, a defendant is vicariously responsible for the conduct of another defendant.

(b) After the initial verdict awarding damages is entered and before the special verdict on percentages of liability is rendered, the parties shall be allowed oral argument, with the length of such argument subject to the discretion of the trial judge, on the determination of the percentage attributable to each defendant. However, no additional evidence shall be allowed.

(D) A defendant shall retain the right to assert that another potential tortfeasor, whether or not a party, contributed to the alleged injury or damages and/or may be liable for any or all of the damages alleged by any other party.

(E) Notwithstanding the application of this section, setoff from any settlement received from any potential tortfeasor prior to the verdict shall be applied in proportion to each defendant’s percentage of liability as determined pursuant to subsection (C).

(F) This section does not apply to a defendant whose conduct is determined to be wilful, wanton, reckless, grossly negligent, or intentional or conduct involving the use, sale, or possession of alcohol or the illegal or illicit use, sale, or possession of drugs.

 

South Carolina Statutes

Chapter 38. SOUTH CAROLINA CONTRIBUTION AMONG TORTFEASORS ACT

§ 15-38-20. Right of contribution

(A) Except as otherwise provided in this chapter, where two or more persons become jointly or severally liable in tort for the same injury to person or property or for the same wrongful death, there is a right of contribution among them even though judgment has not been recovered against all or any of them.

(B) The right of contribution exists only in favor of a tortfeasor who has paid more than his pro rata share of the common liability, and his total recovery is limited to the amount paid by him in excess of his pro rata share. No tortfeasor is compelled to make contribution beyond his own pro rata share of the entire liability.

(C) There is no right of contribution in favor of any tortfeasor who has intentionally caused or contributed to the injury or wrongful death.

(D) A tortfeasor who enters into a settlement with a claimant is not entitled to recover contribution from another tortfeasor whose liability for the injury or wrongful death is not extinguished by the settlement nor in respect to any amount paid in a settlement which is in excess of what was reasonable.

(E) A liability insurer, who by payment has discharged in full or in part the liability of a tortfeasor and has thereby discharged in full its obligation as insurer, is subrogated to the tortfeasor’s right of contribution to the extent of the amount it has paid in excess of the tortfeasor’s pro rata share of the common liability. This provision does not limit or impair any right of subrogation arising from any other relationship.

(F) This chapter does not impair any right of indemnity under existing law. Where one tortfeasor is entitled to indemnity from another, the right of the indemnity obligee is for indemnity and not contribution, and the indemnity obligor is not entitled to contribution from the obligee for any portion of his indemnity obligation.

(G) This chapter does not apply to breaches of trust or of other fiduciary obligation.

 

CODE OF GEORGIA

Title 51. TORTS

Chapter 12. DAMAGES

Article 2. JOINT TORT-FEASORS

§ 51-12-31. Recovery Against Joint Trespassers

Except as provided in Code Section 51-12-33, where an action is brought jointly against several persons, the plaintiff may recover damages for an injury caused by any of the defendants against only the defendant or defendants liable for the injury. In its verdict, the jury may specify the particular damages to be recovered of each defendant. Judgment in such a case must be entered severally.”

 

Title 51. TORTS

Chapter 12. DAMAGES

Article 2. JOINT TORT-FEASORS

§ 51-12-33. Apportionment Of Award According To Degree Of Fault; Individual Liability

(a) Where an action is brought against one or more persons for injury to person or property and the plaintiff is to some degree responsible for the injury or damages claimed, the trier of fact, in its determination of the total amount of damages to be awarded, if any, shall determine the percentage of fault of the plaintiff and the judge shall reduce the amount of damages otherwise awarded to the plaintiff in proportion to his or her percentage of fault.

(b) Where an action is brought against more than one person for injury to person or property, the trier of fact, in its determination of the total amount of damages to be awarded, if any, shall after a reduction of damages pursuant to subsection (a) of this Code section, if any, apportion its award of damages among the persons who are liable according to the percentage of fault of each person. Damages apportioned by the trier of fact as provided in this Code section shall be the liability of each person against whom they are awarded, shall not be a joint liability among the persons liable, and shall not be subject to any right of contribution.

(c) In assessing percentages of fault, the trier of fact shall consider the fault of all persons or entities who contributed to the alleged injury or damages, regardless of whether the person or entity was, or could have been, named as a party to the suit.

(d)(1) Negligence or fault of a nonparty shall be considered if the plaintiff entered into a settlement agreement with the nonparty or if a defending party gives notice not later than 120 days prior to the date of trial that a nonparty was wholly or partially at fault.

(2) The notice shall be given by filing a pleading in the action designating the nonparty and setting forth the nonparty’s name and last known address, or the best identification of the nonparty which is possible under the circumstances, together with a brief statement of the basis for believing the nonparty to be at fault.

(e) Nothing in this Code section shall eliminate or diminish any defenses or immunities which currently exist, except as expressly stated in this Code section.

(f)(1) Assessments of percentages of fault of nonparties shall be used only in the determination of the percentage of fault of named parties.

(2) Where fault is assessed against nonparties pursuant to this Code section, findings of fault shall not subject any nonparty to liability in any action or be introduced as evidence of liability in any action.

(g) Notwithstanding the provisions of this Code section and any other provisions of law which might be construed to the contrary, the plaintiff shall not be entitled to receive any damages if the plaintiff is 50 percent or more responsible for the injury or damages claimed.”