Joint and several liability refers to a shared responsibility for a debt or a judgment for negligence, in which each debtor or each judgment defendant is responsible for the entire amount of the debt or judgment. The person owed money can collect the entire amount from any of the debtors or defendants and not be limited to a share from each debtor. The entire judgment may be collected from any of the defendants found responsible, unless the court determines the percentage of negligence of each defendant which contributed to the injury.
Defense attorneys often request the judge or jury to break down the amount of negligence of each defendant and the plaintiff if there is contributory negligence. Often the court will refuse to do so, allowing the plaintiff to collect from whichever defendant has the most money, and letting the defendant who pays demand contributions from the other defendants. Joint and several liability often arises when people enter into an obligation such as a guarantee together, which means that the lender or creditor can recover the whole indebtedness from any one of them. They are then left to sort out their respective contributions between themselves. Many states have passed laws, which vary by state, abolishing or limiting joint and several liability.