There are three types of multiple tortfeasors – joint, concurrent, and successive. If two or more defendants acted together in causing a plaintiff’s injury, the two owed a common duty and they are considered joint tortfeasors. If the actions of one tortfeasor set forth a series of events upon which a second tortfeasor’s negligence causes an indivisible injury from the first tortfeasor, the two are considered concurrent tortfeasors and are jointly and severally liable for the injury. When the injuries inflicted by defendants result from separate, distinct acts unrelated in causation and time, the two defendants are successive tortfeasors.
The liability of successive tortfeasors depends on the circumstances. A lawyer, like a truck accident lawyer, knows that if the successive accidents are related – an MVA with later medical malpractice – the first tortfeasor is generally liable for all the damages. The second tortfeasor is liable only for the damages attributable to their conduct that aggravated the original injury. When the first tortfeasor is held liable for the entire injury, they may seek contribution or indemnity from the first tortfeasor.
When a plaintiff is injured in two or more unrelated accidents, each one of which aggravates the plaintiff’s condition, the jury must apportion the damages so that the second tortfeasor is not held liable for the damages caused by the first tortfeasor.
When dealing with multiple tortfeasors, apportionment, contribution, and indemnity become complex issues. Apportioning damages between the defendants depends on the jurisdiction and the relevant statutes. In comparative fault jurisdictions, courts can apportion the damages between the defendants based on the degree of fault attributed to each party. In joint and several jurisdictions, if both defendants are found to have caused some harm, one party can be held responsible for the entire harm. Contribution allows a tortfeasor who has paid more than their equal share (or contributing fault) of the damages to seek reimbursement from other responsible parties for their comparative fault. Indemnity finds one tortfeasor fully responsible for the damages but allows the party held responsible to seek reimbursement from other parties regardless of their degree of fault.
Learning By Example
Understanding the dynamics of multiple tortfeasors is easiest understood by way of example. Imagine a plaintiff is injured in a car accident. The plaintiff goes to see a doctor. The doctor diagnosed the plaintiff with a broken leg. The doctor performs a surgical procedure to repair the femur. By accident, the doctor clipped a nerve in the leg during the procedure. The plaintiff sued the driver for negligence. The plaintiff recovers compensatory damages for their medical bills, pain and suffering, emotional distress, and future medical damages. The driver can then seek contribution from the doctor for the doctor’s share of the damages to the plaintiff.
Understanding the different types of multiple tortfeasors can be complex. Thanks to Eglet Adams for their insight on multiple tortfeasors. If you are looking for help with your claim and believe there may be multiple parties liable for damages, reach out to your lawyer for help.