In a recent blog post, we covered a recent $123 million verdict for a Duck Boat accident in Seattle. An important aspect of that case was how the verdict was split between the two defendant companies who were each deemed partially responsible for the incident and the resulting injuries. This concept – joint and several liability between multiple defendants – can make a big difference in a victim's ability to collect the verdict they have been awarded in a successful personal injury lawsuit.
The personal injury lawyers at Gilman & Bedigian explain.
Jury Awards $123 Million Verdict Against Two Duck Boat Companies
The situation stems from a terrible accident between a Duck Boat and a bus in Seattle, Washington, that killed five and injured another 71. The cause of the accident was found to be a defective axle on the Duck Boat that broke and sent the vehicle into the side of the bus.
Recently, the personal injury, wrongful death, and products liability lawsuit came to a close when the jury awarded the victims of the crash $123 million in collective damages. The verdict went against the two corporate defendants: Ride the Ducks International was the company that defectively manufactured the vehicle that broke, while Ride the Ducks of Seattle was the company that negligently maintained the vehicle.
The jury found that Ride the Ducks International was between 67 and 70 percent liable for the crash, while Ride the Ducks of Seattle was between 30 and 33 percent liable (the variation depended on whether the victim was in the bus or on the Duck Boat at the time of the crash).
Two Ways to Apportion Liability Among Multiple Defendants
There are two ways to apportion liability among multiple defendants who are each partially to blame for an injury: Several liability, and joint and several liability.
Which method is used makes a huge difference for the victim's ability to collect the compensation they are entitled to receive after a successful lawsuit.
Under several liability, which is the law for most personal injury cases in Washington, where the accident occurred, each defendant is only responsible for the portion of the damages that they are assigned. In this case, Ride the Ducks International would be on the hook for paying around $82 million, while Ride the Ducks of Seattle would be responsible for covering the remaining $41 million.
The problem with several liability is that, if one of the defendants is unable to pay their share of the verdict, the other defendants are not responsible for covering it. This can leave the victim under-compensated. If Ride the Ducks of Seattle were to go bankrupt after paying only $11 million, the victims would never be able to collect the remaining $30 million they are entitled to.
Joint and several liability aim to correct this harsh outcome. Under joint and several liability – which is the law in Maryland – each defendant is liable for the entire verdict, even if they were only partially at fault. Defendants who pay more than their share of the verdict to the victim can then sue the other defendants for contribution, forcing them to cover the portion of the verdict they were assigned by the jury. This takes a step towards ensuring the victim is not the one who loses when one defendant is judgment-proof: Were Ride the Ducks of Seattle to go bankrupt after paying $11 million, the victims could collect the remaining $30 million from Ride the Ducks International and leave the two corporations to fight it out in bankruptcy court.