When more than one party is guilty of negligent actions, joint and several liability plays a role in medical malpractice claims.
What Is Joint and Several Liability?
Joint and several liability impacts medical malpractice cases when two or more defendants are responsible for negligent actions that cause patient injuries. Medical care commonly involves multiple parties such as hospitals, doctors, nurses, surgeons, anesthesiologists, and physical therapists that provide treatments to a single patient. Joint and several liability applies if more than one party is responsible for injury to the patient.
Joint and several liability is a combination of two different theories of liability, so it is important to understand the meaning of each:
Joint liability is shared by two or more defendants that act in common to cause patient harm. For example, when two surgeons are operating on the same patient, they are in agreement on surgical procedures performed during the operation. If the patient suffers injuries due to those procedures, both surgeons can be found jointly liable for negligent actions.
The significance of joint liability in a medical malpractice case is that each defendant found jointly liable for an injury is responsible for paying all the plaintiff’s damages. Laws don’t allow the plaintiff to recover twice for the same injury, but the plaintiff’s medical malpractice lawyers can pursue both joint defendants until all injury damages are recovered.
Several liability is separated from another defendant’s liability. For instance, when multiple parties are severally liable, the plaintiff’s medical malpractice lawyers can bring a separate lawsuit against one defendant without including the other defendants. When severally liable defendants are grouped in the same lawsuit, each defendant is only liable for specific injury damages that he/she caused.
In medical malpractice cases, several liability may involve two or more separate, unrelated negligent actions. A patient may be injured during surgery due to negligent actions of the surgeon, then injured later by negligent actions of doctors and nurses during follow-up care. Although all medical procedures involve negligence, the actions that caused injuries are not related.
In medical malpractice cases, the court can assign joint and several liability to all defendants or some defendants at the plaintiff’s discretion, regardless of the percentage of fault assigned to each defendant. However, in most cases, damages are equally divided between defendants, unless a defendant is uninsured or under-insured, has no money to pay damages, or defaults on the court’s judgment.