You’re at a stop light and a car hits you from behind, pushing your vehicle out into the intersection. Luckily for you the light has just turned green and there should be no oncoming traffic. But a car that tried to beat the red light T-bones your vehicle, injuring you. While you are likely entitled to compensation for your injuries, the question turns to who is it that owes you, how much and for what.
Joint and several liability is a legal theory that allows a plaintiff to sue and collect the full amount of recoverable damages from any defendant. This means that even if one party is responsible for most of your injuries, you can recover most of the money from another defendant if they are able to pay. While most states use a modified version of this theory, Georgia is among one of a very few states that has done away with joint and several liability. Instead, under Georgia Code Section 51-12-33, Georgia is a pure several liability state.
Pure several liability does not preclude a plaintiff from pursuing a civil action against multiple defendants. What pure several liability does is apportion the amount of damages to the defendants based on the amount of proportionate liability each one shares. So, if a defendant is found to be 20 percent liable for your injuries, you can only collect 20 percent of the awarded damages from that defendant. This statute does not prevent a claim for contribution being brought as a separate lawsuit after a judgment or settlement.
While the rule eliminates the extra burden that may be placed on defendants made to pay more than their proportional share, it also increases the chances of a plaintiff not being fully reimbursed for their damages. In cases with multiple defendants, the amount of each party’s liability can make an enormous difference in the amount of recovery someone may actually receive.