While some accidents only involve one plaintiff and one defendant, others involve multiple defendants. This can create an issue when it comes to determining which defendants are responsible for compensating the plaintiff in the event of a plaintiff’s verdict. Jurisdictions around the country have different methods of determining how defendants are required to compensate a plaintiff when there are several at-fault defendants, some of whom may not be present at all or may not be able to afford to compensate the plaintiff.
There are two basic methods that states use to determine which defendants are responsible for compensating the plaintiff. Under one method, called “joint and several liability,” any defendant found to be at fault can be held completely responsible for any and all damages the plaintiff suffered. This is a very plaintiff-friendly rule because it allows for a plaintiff to seek full recovery from just one defendant, if the other defendants are either not present or unable to pay. A defendant that ends up paying for other defendants’ shares can then sometimes seek compensation on their own through what is called “contribution.”
The other manner in which courts split up liability is called “several liability,” under which a defendant is only held responsible for their own percentage of fault. For example, if a defendant was 20% at fault, and the total damages suffered by the plaintiff were $1 million, the defendant would be only responsible for up to $200,000. Indiana uses this method. A recent case in front of an Arizona appellate court illustrates how several liability can play out in the real world.
Cramer v. Starr: The Facts
Cramer rear-ended a vehicle driven by Mungia. Mungia suffered back pain after the accident and sought medical treatment, culminating in her undergoing back surgery. However, after the surgery, Mungia’s symptoms were worse than before. She then filed a lawsuit against Cramer, seeking compensation for her injuries.
Cramer responded by claiming that the doctor was at least partially at fault and asking the court to allow her to name the doctor who performed the surgery as an additional defendant. The trial court prevented Cramer from doing so, and then Cramer appealed.
On appeal, the court determined that Cramer should have been allowed to name the doctor as an additional defendant. The court explained that under Arizona law, as in Indiana, several liability prevents a defendant from paying more than their own percentage of fault, and by refusing to join the doctor in the lawsuit, Cramer faced a very real risk that she would be found liable for the entire amount. Instead, the appellate court determined it would be more appropriate to have the doctor joined in the lawsuit from the beginning so that the jury could properly determine which parties were at fault.
Have You Been Injured in an Indiana Accident?
If you or a loved one has recently been involved in any kind of Indiana accident, you may be entitled to monetary compensation. The skilled injury attorneys at the Indiana law firm of Parr Richey Obremskey Frandsen & Patterson have decades of collective experience representing clients in all kinds of car accident and other personal injury cases, including those involving multiple defendants. Call 888-532-7766 today to set up a free consultation with a dedicated and experienced personal injury attorney.
Statutes of Limitations in Indiana Medical Malpractice Cases, Indiana Injury Lawyer Blog, August 4, 2016
Appellate Court Denies Insurance Company’s Jurisdictional Challenge to Accident Victim’s Lawsuit, Indiana Injury Lawyer Blog, July 13, 2016