New York’s law on “joint and several” liability was taken to task by The New York Post in an opinion piece this weekend, which called for tort reform. The paper called it a racket for personal injury attorneys.
Joint and several liability refers to the legal theory where two or more people or companies have injured someone, even though they are not necessarily equally at fault.
When an injured victim wins a judgment in this situation, he may recover that money from any one of the responsible individuals or companies. It then becomes the responsibility of the people who are held accountable to pay to sort out their respective portions of payment. If the injured victim obtains payment from one responsible party, that person or company must then pursue the others to pay their share.
Since New York City has extremely “deep pockets,” the editorial calls it unfair that the city has been found jointly and severally liable in certain situations even though they were found to be only minimally at fault. For example, if a drunk driver hits a pothole and crashes into another car, the victim could sue the drunk driver and the city for its carelessness and negligence related to the pothole. If a jury found that the city was even partially at fault for the accident, it could end up paying the entire award if the driver is unable to pay. So even though the drunk driver selfishly risked the lives of people around him, the taxpayers might be on the hook for the bill. Joint and several liability has been limited in 42 states, and the article called for similar measures in New York.
The author particularly blamed Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver for the lack of reform, which she claims leads to waste and abuse of the system. Speaker Silver is employed by the personal injury firm Weitz and Luxenberg, which has sued the city numerous times, often on asbestos claims.
While government waste certainly needs to be tackled, the issue of the rights of victims was neglected in the article. It might seem unfair that the city has to pay the full amount of an award for an accident that they were only one percent responsible. But on the other side of the coin, what about a victim who is seriously injured and wins a verdict but can’t get paid because the the person who caused the harm has no money? To the person who has lost life or limb, joint and several liability can be a godsend.
Sometimes recovering the compensation you have been awarded for your injury is just as difficult as winning your trial. That’s why it’s important to contact an experienced trial attorney about your case. If you feel the person who is most directly responsible for your injury might be unable to pay, give me a call at 516-487-8207 or shoot me an e-mail to [email protected]. I can discuss with you the responsibilities of insurance companies and legal options of suing those only partly liable but fully able to pay your claim, such as a town or corporation.