If you have a personal injury lawsuit, you want to file it against as many defendants (those responsible for your injuries) as possible. What is a personal injury action? A personal injury action involves any incident where someone suffers physical and/or emotional injuries. Classic examples are accidents (car, truck, bus, train, pedestrian, motorcycle), slip and falls, dog bites, burn injuries, electrocutions, food poisoning and using defective products. Why should you sue multiple parties? For one thing, liability. You want to make sure you have all potentially responsible parties in the lawsuit. Otherwise, the defendant(s) can deflect responsibility onto a third party who is not in the lawsuit. This is called the “empty chair" defense. For another reason, damages. You want to maximize your chances of recovery. If you have more than one defendant, then each defendant is jointly [individually] responsible for all economic damages, regardless of the percentage of fault attributed to any one defendant. What are economic damages? Damages that are objectively verifiable monetary losses are economic damages, such as medical bills, lost wages, and property damage. Consider this scenario: while using a crosswalk, you are struck by a motorist. Defendant “A" is the driver of the car and Defendant “B" is the owner of the car that hit you. Further, there was no traffic signal at this intersection. You may have an action against the driver (Defendant A) for failing to yield the right of way, against the owner of the car (Defendant B) based on vicarious liability, and against the City (Defendant C) for failing to place a traffic light at the intersection. Your medical bills total $75,000. Medical bills are economic damages. Under this scenario, you want to sue all three parties because each party may be jointly liable for all of your economic damage, as long as that defendant is found to be at least 1% at fault. The case goes to trial and the jury allocates 80% of fault to the driver, 15% of fault to the owner, and 5% of fault to the City. But, Defendants A and B (the driver and the owner) have no insurance. As long as the City was found to be at least 1% at fault, it could be responsible for your medical bills, up to $75,000. This is called “joint and several liability". However, the City would not be jointly responsible for your “non-economic damages", which are subjective, non-monetary losses, such as pain and suffering. Instead, it would be responsible only for the amount of non-economic damages allocated to it by the jury. So for example, the jury awards $25,000 in general damages. Under this scenario, the City would be responsible for 5% or $1,250 of the general damages. This article strictly talks about California law. Laws in other states may differ. This article is for educational purposes only and is not meant to serve as legal advice.
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